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White House spokesman twice calls Puerto Rico ‘that country’ in TV interview

President Trump and members of his Cabinet have delivered mixed messages on Puerto Rico’s recovery since it was struck by Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)
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White House spokesman Hogan Gidley twice referred to Puerto Rico as “that country” during a television appearance Tuesday in which he defended a series of tweets by President Trump lashing out at leaders of the U.S. territory.

In two bursts of tweets — one late Monday night and another Tuesday morning — Trump complained about the amount of federal relief money going to the island and called its politicians “incompetent or corrupt.”

He also claimed that Puerto Rico “got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane,” a figure that actually reflects a high-end, long-term estimate for recovery costs. Only a fraction of that has so far been budgeted, and even less has been spent.

As he pressed to defend Trump’s contentions, Gidley sought to make the case that the leaders of the territory, whose residents are U.S. citizens, have mishandled the aid they’ve received thus far.

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“With all they’ve done in that country, they’ve had a systematic mismanagement of the goods and services we’ve sent to them,” Gidley said. “You’ve seen food just rotting in the ports. Their governor has done a horrible job. He’s trying to make political hay in a political year, and he’s trying to find someone to take the blame off of his for not having a grid and not having a good system in that country at all.”

Gidley later attributed his misstatements to “a slip of the tongue.”

In the town of Yabucoa, residents say the Trump administration let them down and their struggle continues. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

During the interview, Gidley was also asked about a tweet in which Trump said Puerto Rico’s leaders “only take from the USA.”

Asked to clarify how Trump views the status of Puerto Ricans, Gidley said Trump is supportive of its people, noting that he traveled there after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.

“He gave them a lot of money,” Gidley said. “They have mismanaged and misused that money. It hurts their people. That’s what he’s upset about.”