WASHINGTON — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said President Trump risked being the “miscommunicator in chief” after a meeting in which Trump joked about the island draining the U.S. budget and contrasted their “death count” with the toll suffered in Hurricane Katrina.
At a briefing with aid officials, Gov. Ricardo Rossello, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez and mayors including Yulín Cruz, Trump praised Rossello: “I just want to tell you that right from the beginning this governor was not playing politics. He was giving us the highest grades.”
After Yulín Cruz begged on TV Friday for more federal help, describing the plight of residents left without potable water and access to life-sustaining services such as dialysis, Trump tweeted over the weekend from his golf club in New Jersey: “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. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Yulín Cruz told CNN she told Trump today that “this is about saving lives, it’s not about politics.” That greeting was only interaction the assembled mayors had with the president, she said. It was followed by a meeting with White House staff in which the San Juan mayor said she felt she was heard and that they “finally saw the disconnect” between promised relief and the reality on the ground.
At the meeting, Trump acknowledged Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’re throwing our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine; we saved a lot of lives,” Trump said.
“If you look at the — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous, 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. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” he continued. “And what is your — what is your death count as of this moment? 17?”
“Sixteen certified,” Rossello replied.
“Sixteen people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands,” Trump said.
That death toll hasn’t been updated in several days. Secretary of Public Security Hector Pesquera told the Center for Investigative Journalism that there are more than 16 dead; challenges in gathering an accurate toll included reaching rural areas where some families have reportedly already buried their dead, issuing death certificates for corpses currently at hospitals and morgues, counting the patients who passed away from a lack of services after hospitals were forced to close, and accounting for 30 people still reported missing to law enforcement.
Yulín Cruz said it’s “about respect for the Puerto Rican people and it’s about saving lives,” and Trump should “stop spouting out comments that really hurt the people of Puerto Rico.”
After the meeting, Trump conducted a walking tour in Guaynabo, an affluent San Juan suburb whose mayor has praised the Trump administration response and was with the president today.
On Capitol Hill today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “to have the gall to complain about Puerto Rico throwing our budget out of whack – while proposing tax cuts for millionaires that will cost trillions of dollars – boggles the mind, boggles the mind.”
“I don’t remember the president telling Texas that they threw our budget out of whack after Harvey,” Schumer said. “Or Florida after Irma.”