President Trump said in a radio interview broadcast Monday that he is an “absolute no” on statehood for Puerto Rico, citing his running feud with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a critic of the federal response to Hurricane Maria.
“With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump told host Geraldo Rivera in an interview conducted Sunday with WTAM Radio in Cleveland, later calling Cruz “a horror show.”
Trump’s assessment brought a rebuke from Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of the commonwealth, who has been making a stepped-up effort to persuade Trump and Congress to support statehood in the wake of the anniversary of the storm.
“This is an insensitive, disrespectful comment to over 3 million Americans who live in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said in a statement in which he also lamented “the unequal and colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.”
In the aftermath of Maria, Cruz made repeated public pleas for more immediate aid from the federal government, which angered Trump.
The two have continued to spar.
Earlier this month, when Trump characterized the federal response to Maria as an “incredible, unsung success,” Cruz pushed back on Twitter, writing: “If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [is] a success God help us all.”
Speaking of Cruz on Monday, Trump said that “with people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no” on statehood.
“If you had people like the mayor of San Juan, whatever her name may be, she is a horror show,” Trump said. “She was so bad and so disrespectful to our military, to our first responders, and to our great FEMA people, who did a phenomenal job,” he added, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this month found that a 48 percent plurality of Puerto Ricans think the territory should be admitted to the United States as the 51st state. Twenty-six percent said it should remain a territory, and 10 percent said it should become an independent nation.
Meanwhile, 61 percent said the federal government’s hurricane response in Puerto Rico would have been better if it were a state.
In a letter to Trump and in television interviews last week, Rosselló argued that disparate federal responses to Puerto Rico and other states affected by hurricanes underscore the need to alter the U.S. territory’s status.
Puerto Ricans can vote in presidential primaries but not in general elections.
Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in the House, Jenniffer González-Colón (R), introduced legislation in June that would make the territory a state, with full-fledged voting rights, no later than January 2021.
In a referendum last year, 97 percent of those in Puerto Rico who voted chose statehood, but just 23 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The vote was viewed as flawed, and opposition parties boycotted it.
It was the fifth referendum held on statehood since Puerto Rico was acquired in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and designated a commonwealth half a century later.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.