President Trump, facing mounting questions about his commitment to Puerto Rico’s recovery, took to Twitter on Monday night, saying the U.S. territory is “in deep trouble,” in part because of problems that predated Hurricane Maria.
Trump said Puerto Rico was already suffering from “broken infrastructure,” including an old electrical grid, which he said was “devastated” by Hurricane Maria, as well as “massive debt.”
“Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,” Trump said in his series of tweets, which credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He noted that, by contrast, Texas and Florida, hit by earlier hurricanes, “are doing great.”
Monday night’s tweets were the first from Trump about Puerto Rico since Wednesday, when the hurricane made landfall and Trump declared “we are with you.”
Power remains out on much of the island, and officials say they are facing numerous logistical challenges, including damage to airports and ports. But FEMA says its response has been robust, including the deployment of 10,000 federal workers.
Criticism of Trump has come from Democratic politicians, celebrities and others, focusing in part on the heavy attention he has put in recent days on his opposition to football players who kneel during the national anthem.
“At the same time that he was doing all of that, we had American citizens in Puerto Rico who are in a desperate condition,” Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee Trump defeated last year, said in a radio interview on Monday. “He has not said one word about them, about other American citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’m not sure he knows that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.”
Marc Anthony, the Latin pop singer, was more blunt, urging Trump on Twitter to “shut the [expletive] up about NFL.”
“Do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico,” Anthony wrote. “We are American citizens too.”
Actor Kal Penn, who worked in the White House during President Barack Obama’s tenure, said on Twitter that it was “outrageous & unsurprising that our President won’t race to help fellow Americans.”
And some Republicans chimed in as well.
“There are millions of our fellow Americans on Puerto Rico facing great danger and suffering,” GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, a frequent Trump critic, said on Twitter on Monday. “Trump silence and inaction is appalling.”
Trump’s lack of public attention to Puerto Rico has been striking in part because of the major focus he put on helping Texas and Florida recover from earlier hurricanes, a factor many analysts have cited in explaining Trump’s recent uptick in his job approval numbers.
During a briefing Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with questions about Trump’s priorities, including his focus on Puerto Rico.
She noted that Trump had dispatched Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, and Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, to assess the damage in Puerto Rico.
“The federal response has been anything but slow,” Sanders said. “In fact, there’s been an unprecedented push through of billions of dollars in federal assistance that the administration has fought for.… And once we have a greater insight into the full assessment of damage, then we’ll be able to determine what additional funds are needed.”