President Donald Trump, spending the weekend at his Bedminister golf resort in New Jersey, attacked the mayor of San Juan on Saturday for “poor leadership” and accused her of conspiring with Democrats to criticize his administration’s response to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Trump blasted Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz in a series of tweets that aimed to deflect blame for the deepening humanitarian crisis on the island and to cast the mounting criticism against him as partisan attacks – from local officials, political rivals and the media.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump wrote on Twitter. In another message, he added that Cruz and other local officials “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
The outburst came as Trump has bristled over accusations from local officials that the federal government has not moved quickly enough to provide support and aid amid widespread power outages that have left residents without air conditioning, while food, drinking waterand other basic necessities are in short supply in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. At least 16 people have died since the storm struck last week, with many others in critical condition, and officials expect the death toll to climb in the coming days.
On Friday, Cruz pleaded for additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying at a news conference: “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying . . . We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
In his response on Twitter, Trump cast Cruz’s criticism as “unfair” to the thousands of federal workers who his administration says are now in place on the island, and he praised the efforts of the military and other first-responders.
In a bid to isolate Cruz politically, Trump spoke by phone in the afternoon with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp and later praised both of them on Twitter. Trump called Rossello a “great guy” and said that Mapp told him FEMA and the military “are doing a GREAT job!” Trump also praised Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, although he misspelled her first name in a tweet.
And Trump reaffirmed that he and first lady Melania Trump intend to travel Tuesday to Puerto Rico, with a possible stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also is recovering from hurricane damage.
“To the people of Puerto Rico: Do not believe the #FakeNews!” Trump wrote on Twitter in the afternoon.
Appearing on MSNBC, Cruz emphasized that she was not trying to be “nasty” to the president and said she remains open to speaking or meeting with Trump.
“I’m fighting to save lives,” she said. “That’s it. This isn’t personal.”
She also made clear she didn’t plan to stay quiet.
“I will always speak my mind,” Cruz told reporters at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. “I don’t give a damn.”
The president’s tone provoked a major backlash among Democrats, community leaders and major celebrities who lambasted him for casting blame and appearing insensitive to the suffering of U.S. citizens. Trump is expected to stop by the Presidents Cup professional golf tournament in Jersey City on Sunday before returning to the White House that evening.
Many of the strongest critiques came from female lawmakers, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“When a hurricane hits, there are no Democrats or Republicans–only Americans, families struggling to survive,” Pelosi tweeted. “Shameful @POTUS can’t see that.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · David Nakamura, John Wagner