“We’re doing a great job,” Trump said during a Rose Garden news conference with visiting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain. “Everybody has said it’s amazing the job we have done in Puerto Rico. This was a place that was destroyed. I think we’ve done a very good job.”
Trump's assessment was at odds with many reports on the ground and ran counter to a growing chorus of critics, including lawmakers in both parties.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump told reporters that next Tuesday was the earliest that he could visit the island because of logistical issues.
“It's the earliest I can go because of the first responders, and we don’t want to disrupt the relief efforts,” Trump said at the outset of a White House meeting on tax reform with Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Trump said he also plans to stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which experienced extensive damage from the storm.
After being praised for his response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida the hardest, Trump has received lower marks for his response to Maria.
Officials say they are facing numerous logistical challenges, including damage to airports and ports. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says its response has been robust, including the deployment of 10,000 federal workers.
“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump pledged. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.
“We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico, and we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis,” he added. “But that island was hit as hard as you could hit.”
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 presidential nominee Trump defeated last year, said in a radio interview 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 f--- up about NFL.”
“Do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico,” Anthony wrote. “We are American citizens too.”
During the Rose Garden news conference, Trump said the NFL issue had not been a distraction.
“I wasn’t preoccupied with the NFL,” Trump said. “I was ashamed of what was taking place.”
At the White House, Trump also insisted that “Puerto Rico is very important to me.”
“The people are fantastic people,” he said. “I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans. And these are great people, and we have to help them.”