Donald Trump arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning, visiting the United States territory for the first time since Hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20, leaving its nearly 3.7 million people devastated, knocking out power across the island, and leaving almost half of its residents without drinkable water.
Trump met with Puerto Rican government officials as well as first responders but appeared concerned at least as much with the price tag attached to aiding the shattered island — whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens — as with the human toll taken by the fifth most powerful storm ever to hit American territory.
“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” Trump told the Puerto Rican delegation at a meeting attended as well by media representatives. Trump quickly added, “But that’s fine.”
As of Tuesday, almost 9,000 island residents remained displaced from their homes, and 93 percent of the population had yet to regain electricity, which experts say could take up to 10 months to restore in full. Large segments of the island also still lack access to fuel and other essential supplies.
Trump also singled out what he called the hurricane’s “death count” for praise, comparing Maria to what he termed “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”
“What is your death count?” Trump asked. “Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people.”
Watch video of Trump’s remarks, courtesy of The Washington Post, below.
While the Puerto Rico death toll currently stands at 16, as of Tuesday morning the number had not been updated in six days and is widely believed to have run much higher than that number.
According to research by reporter Omaya Sosa Pascual of the Center for Investigative Journalism, who personally contacted numerous hospitals and morgues across the island, the number of dead from Hurricane Maria’s devastation is at least 60 — and could be into the hundreds, according to a report by the news site Vox.com.
Trump also praised his own response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, giving himself an “A plus,” and claimed that he had changed the opinion of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had earlier criticized Trump’s slow movement in sending aid to the island.
“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” Trump told assembled media in San Juan. “In Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks.”
According to NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Trump shook hands with Cruz, who asked him to set aside any previous differences, saying, “It’s not about politics.”
But Trump “didn’t answer then pointedly ignored her,” according to Mitchell. Trump in earlier messages posted to his Twitter account had slammed Cruz and other critics of his Puerto Rico response as “politically motivated ingrates.”
As Trump greeted residents of the island, as seen in the video below, he was heard to tell one hurricane victim, “Have a good time.”
Trump to hurricane victim in Puerto Rico: “Have a good time” pic.twitter.com/ri3C8AdG6t
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 3, 2017
Trump did, however, praise the territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, for praising him.
“He has said we have done an incredible job, and that’s the truth,” Trump said referring to Rosselló.
On Sunday, a White House memo leaked to the press, in which the administration outlined what was to be its secret strategy for handling public relations in the Puerto Rico humanitarian crisis. In the memo, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, who had visited Puerto Rico, wrote that the administration, in TV appearances and other media interviews, should emphasize that “the storm caused these problems, not our response to it.”
[Featured Image By Evan Vucci/AP Images]