President Trump on Friday declared that Puerto Rico has been “destroyed” and said “big decisions” lie ahead about how much to spend on rebuilding the U.S. territory.
His ominous tweet drew immediate criticism from Democratic politicians who said Trump is applying a different standard to the island than he did to Texas and Florida when they were recently struck by hurricanes.
“The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, which also took a heavy toll on the territory before reaching Florida. “Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
Appearing on MSNBC shortly afterward, Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito (D), a native of Puerto Rico, said Trump was treating Puerto Ricans as “second-class citizens.”
“There is a double standard of how Puerto Ricans are being treated,” she said in response to his tweet, calling the Trump administration’s response to the hurricane “deplorable.”
“The lack of planning and preparation is literally costing lives,” said Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan.
On Twitter on Friday, Trump also continued to tout his and his administration’s response, relaying that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had said: “The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered.”
During an interview later Friday morning on MSNBC, Rosselló said he is grateful for the federal help, as well as assistance that’s been provided by 17 states.
But, he added: “The response still is not where it needs to be, certainly it’s not.”
Trump’s latest tweets came a day after two senior administration officials briefed reporters at the White House on progress being made. They noted the challenges of a storm that had wiped out the island’s electrical grid and blocked many roads but ticked off signs of recovery, including the reopening of most hospitals.
On Twitter on Thursday night, Trump suggested the media wasn’t giving his administration a fair shake, writing, “Wish press would treat fairly.”
Trump also noted his plans to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
Although Trump took no stance in his tweets on how much should be spent on Puerto Rico recovery, his reference to “big decisions” raised a question that has come with other major storm-damaged areas.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a newspaper interview that it made no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city 7 feet under sea level.
“It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” he said.