White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley called Puerto Rico “that country” and referred to the people living there as “their people” while speaking with a reporter on Monday, and he is facing intense backlash for what many say is wording that exposes the administration’s attitude towards the U.S. territory. According to The Washington Post, Gidley later called the repeated wording a slip of the tongue, but the damage was done.
While speaking with Hallie Jackson on MSNBC about Puerto Rico, Gidley criticized the way the island had used the aid that had been provided so far.
“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.”
Later in the interview, Jackson asked about his choice of wording, asking whether it was on purpose. Jackson also pointed out that the people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and asked why Gidley was rolling his eyes. Gidley said that it was a “slip of the tongue” and reiterated that the territory had mismanaged the money they were sent.
MSNBC's @HallieJackson to WH dep. press secretary Hogan Gidley: Trump "says Puerto Ricans are taking from the USA. Puerto Rico is part of the United States. People who live in Puerto Rico are U.S. Citizens. You're rolling your eyes and I don't know why you're rolling your eyes." pic.twitter.com/mDn9lWQA5E— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) April 2, 2019
Gidley, who works under Sarah Sanders, faced a swift backlash for his comments. As political commentator Tim Miller pointed out on Twitter, Puerto Ricans are American citizens and providing aid to them isn’t the same as providing foreign aid, which Gidley’s comments seemed to imply.
“Listening to Hogan Gidley with @HallieJackson. He keeps referring to Puerto Ricans as ‘their people’ which is a weird formulation for Americans,” he wrote. “This isn’t aid being given to a foreign country.”
John Hudson, a writer for The Washington Post, called out Gidley’s comments.
Pompeo often tries to remind foreigners that the US is not an empire. No one appears more on message on this than Hogan Gidley who granted sovereignty to Puerto Rico https://t.co/e5lZ2tTNKH— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) April 2, 2019
Other social media users said that it seems as though the administration and Republicans see Puerto Rico as a foreign country.
Republicans do not see Puerto Rico as part of the United States. View them as they do Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, part of the brown hoard.— Paula Kanmore (@AbbyDobby) April 2, 2019
White House spox Hogan Gidley twice refers to Puerto Rico as "that country" pic.twitter.com/ewTkrh9BXT
Others joked that he must have been absent during American civics and history classes in school.
Gidley’s comments come as a defense to language that Donald Trump has used recently when talking about the island. The president has criticized Puerto Rico for misusing federal funding sent for hurricane disaster relief, calling the leadership there incompetent and foolish. He also wrote in a tweet that the territory was taking money away from the U.S. Trump added that he was the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico and called the island unappreciative.
....The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2019