President Trump on Thursday said the federal government is doing “a GREAT job” responding to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and suggested the media was not covering his administration’s efforts fairly.
His comments on Twitter come as Trump has faced strong criticism for not being as engaged in the recovery from Hurricane Maria as he was for other recent hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida. And reviews on the ground in Puerto Rico have been mixed.
“FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico,” Trump said in a series of tweets, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Massive food & water delivered,” Trump said. “Docks & electric grid dead. Locals trying ... really hard to help but many have lost their homes. Military is now on site and I will be there Tuesday. Wish press would treat fairly!”
In a separate tweet, he declared Puerto Rico “devastated,” ticking off problems with the phone system, electrical grid and transportation system. But, he said, his administration’s first responders are “amazing.”
His tweets came on the same day that some senior administration officials offered a vigorous defense of the federal response in Puerto Rico at a pair of White House briefings, even as they acknowledged the long road ahead.
“You are seeing devastation in Puerto Rico. That is the fault of the hurricane,” acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with President Trump on Thursday. “The relief effort is under control. It is proceeding very well considering the devastation that took place.”
Duke said she is “very satisfied” with the federal response since Maria made landfall eight days earlier, calling it “a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, who joined Duke in addressing reporters, said some of the media reports about the island’s condition had been based on outdated images and data.
“I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we're not moving fast enough,” Bossert said.
“I think that there's kind of two responses I'd have to that,” he said. “First, there's an understandable degree of devastation on the island, and for anybody that needs food and water, power, lifesaving needs and commodities, health care, there's nothing that can help fast enough. … But what I will tell you is that we are mobilizing and marshaling the resources of the United States of America in a way that is absolutely professional, fast and adequate to meet the needs.”
After saying little publicly about the devastation in the days after Maria’s landfall, Trump has in recent days been promising a robust response.
“The people of Puerto Rico have every bit of support from President Trump that he gave to the citizens of every other state in this country, and I think you’re going to see that continue in a very positive way,” Bossert said.
He later joined the White House press secretary in the briefing room to answer questions about the administration’s response.
“Right now, we've seen 16 fatalities confirmed from the state authorities,” Bossert said. “No fatality's acceptable. If that number increases significantly, that will be a devastating blow. We are doing everything we can to prevent that. Loss of life from the storm is one thing. Loss of life that's preventable is another. And that's why we're trying to marshal our resources.”