In September of 2018, a year after Hurricane Maria struck the United States territory of Puerto Rico — leaving the island devastated — a full recovery was still a distant hope, according to a report by USA Today. President Donald Trump, who had been widely criticized for his handling of disaster relief for Puerto Rico, nonetheless publicly touted the relief efforts as an “incredible unsung success,” and “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”
But behind the scenes, Trump’s attitude toward Puerto Rico was very different, according to an explosive report published Wednesday by the Washington Post. Out of the public eye, Trump allegedly raged at his Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Chief of Staff John Kelly that “he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico.”
As his supposed rationale for withholding further disaster relief from Puerto Rico, Trump allegedly claimed that the island’s territorial government had used federal aid funds to pay down the massive debts that had driven Puerto Rico to bankruptcy even before the hurricane hit, as Bloomberg News reported.
The accusation was false, but nonetheless Trump posted the claim to his Twitter account in October, “The people of Puerto Rico are wonderful but the inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations. The U.S. will NOT bail out long outstanding & unpaid obligations with hurricane relief money!”
Despite the fact that the accusation that disaster funds were misused was untrue, Trump reportedly remained “not consolable,” and allegedly refused to allocate further disaster aid for Puerto Rico — according to an anonymous White House source who spoke to The Washington Post. Instead, Trump reportedly demanded that funds meant for Puerto Rico be allocated for disaster relief in Florida and Texas, instead.
According to the Post report, it was largely Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rican disaster aide that led to the resignation of Pamela Patenaude on Thursday, — the deputy housing secretary who was in charge of overseeing Puerto Rico’s rebuilding efforts.
Patenaude denied that she resigned due to the disagreement over Puerto Rico, though she held a meeting with administration officials in December, one in which she “advocated for Puerto Rico and assured the White House that Puerto Rico had sufficient financial controls in place,” according to the Daily Beast.
Trump’s immediate response to the Hurricane Maria disaster was seen as inadequate by his critics, a criticism Trump answered by saying, according to the Washington Post, “It’s very tough, because it’s an island… This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”