President Trump on Tuesday told Puerto Rico officials they should feel âvery proudâ they havenât lost thousands of lives like in âa real catastrophe like Katrina,â while adding that the devastated island territory has thrown the nationâs budget âa little out of whack.â Â
Trumpâs remarks came as he touched down in San Juan amid harsh criticism of the slow federal response to the natural disaster and after he praised himself earlier in the day for his administrationâs âgreat jobâ andÂ âA-plusâ response to Hurricane Maria.
This is Trumpâs first visit to Puerto Rico since the storm ravaged the island nearly two weeks ago.
âEvery death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendousÂ â hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobodyâs ever seen anything like this,â Trump said, before turning to a local official to ask how many people had died in storm. âWhat is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands.â
Trump then praised officials in the room over the death toll.
âYou can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together,â he said.
The president also seemed to fault the small island for imperiling the United Statesâs budget by requiring hurricane relief funds, saying,Â âI hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but youâve thrown our budget a little out of whack.
Before Trumpâs impromptu remarks, the presidentâs visit was intended to be highly scripted, including a briefing on relief efforts, a meeting with senior military personnel â as well as with Govs. Ricardo RossellÃ³ of Puerto Rico and Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands â and an opportunity to visit with people impacted by the storm and the Navy and Marine Corps.
The president, who was accompanied by the first lady, is not expected to stray far from San Juan, Puerto Ricoâs capital and largest city, where recovery is much farther along than much of the rest of the territory.
Â San Juan Mayor Carmen YulÃn Cruz, who has been deeply critical of the governmentâs relief efforts and whom Trump has criticized on Twitter, also joined Trump for his first briefing on the island. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Cruz had been invited to participate in Trumpâs visit. But the mayorâs name did not appear on the presidentâs public schedule, and it was not clear until Tuesday morning that Trump would encounter Cruz.Â
Trumpâs mixed reviews for his response so far, however, did not stop him from lavishing praise on himself and his administration. As the president, clad in a black windbreaker and khakis, departed the White House, he said Cruz hasÂ âcome back a long way,â before returning to one his favorite topics â himself and his own performance.
âI think itâs now acknowledged what a great job weâve done, and people are looking at that,â he said. âAnd in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And Iâll tell you what, I think weâve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and itâs 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.â
He also thankedÂ RossellÃ³ for positive comments he had made about the administrationâs work in Puerto Rico, saying,Â âHe has said we have done an incredible job, and thatâs the truth.â
Trumpâs response to Maria offers a sharp contrast with his actions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Southeast Texas. Trump visited Texas twice in the week after Harveyâs landfall, first in his role as commander in chief, checking in on relief efforts, and thenÂ as a âconsoler in chief,â offering hugs and prayers.
Though Trump and his administration initially offered a flurry of action as Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the president then effectively went dark,Â decamping for a long weekend at his private club in Bedminster, N.J.
The president at points also seemed to blame Puerto Ricans themselves for their plight, lashing out at the mayor of San JuanÂ â after she pleaded on cable television for the federal government toÂ âsave us from dyingâÂ â for herÂ âpoor leadership abilityâ and writing on Twitter that the islandâs citizensÂ âwant everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.â
Trumpâs visit comes as he is facing yet another tragedy not of his own making: a shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas that left at least 59 people dead and hundreds more injured. The mass shooting is the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Trump is scheduled to visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.