News & Politics

Puerto Rico's Governor Dismantles Media Attacks on Trump's Response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria

It was clear this weekend that the talking points had gone out to the media: President Trump’s response to both Hurricane Irma earlier this month and Hurricane Maria last week was as disastrous as Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

All of these media figures became woke on the topic in just the last 24 hours.

But is it true?

The pushback against the media narrative has come from a surprising source: Puerto Rica Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who served as a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and as an Obama delegate in 2012.

In an interview with PBS Newshour this evening, Rosselló thanked the Trump administration for their prompt response:

JOHN YANG: Governor, are you getting all the aid you need or getting it fast enough from the states?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: First of all, we are very grateful for the administration. They have responded quickly.

The president has been very attentive to the situation, personally calling me several times. FEMA and the FEMA director have been here in Puerto Rico twice. As a matter of fact, they were here with us today, making sure that all the resources in FEMA were working in conjunction with the central government.

We have been working together. We have been getting results. The magnitude of this catastrophe is enormous. This is going to take a lot of help, a lot of collaboration. So, my call is to congressmen and congresswomen to take action quickly and conclusively with an aid package for Puerto Rico.

We are in the midst of potentially having a humanitarian crisis here in Puerto Rico which would translate to a humanitarian crisis in the United States. So, I call upon Congress to take action immediately. You know, Puerto Ricans are proud U.S. citizens.

This is a message that Gov. Rosselló and other Puerto Rican officials had been putting out all weekend.

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported:

Rossello and other officials praised the federal government for planning its response in detail before the storm hit, a contrast with what Puerto Rico has long seen as the neglect of 3.4 million Americans living in a territory without a vote in Congress or the electoral college.

“This is the first time we get this type of federal coordination,” said Resident Commission Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Washington.

On Monday, FEMA tweeted out about some of the help that had already arrived.

A FEMA press release detailed some of the relief headed towards Puerto Rico:

  • Six commercial barges transported and delivered meals, water, generators, cots, and other commodities to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • An air bridge is established, flying three flights per day to St. Croix, each carrying approximately 33,000 meals.
  • The logistics support ship SS Wright arrived carrying more than 1.1 million meals, and nearly one million liters of freshwater.
  • Two shipping barges with 1.2 million liters of water, 31 generators, and more than 6,000 cots arrived in St. Thomas.
  • Two additional shipping barges loaded with food, water, and emergency relief supplies are en route to the Caribbean Sea from Florida.
  • Millions of additional meals are being flown to Puerto Rico from staging areas in Kentucky and Florida.
  • The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is transporting a shipment of 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Puerto Rico, with arrival in the coming days.

It may not be obvious to the media, but one of the difficulties in getting supplies to Puerto Rico is that it’s an island 1200+ nautical miles from Miami, the closest major U.S. port.

Clearing the ports takes time, and getting supplies for 3.4 million people by plane into devastated airports isn’t a real option.

Stars and Stripes reports that the Defense Department has already sent 2,600 personnel to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to assist in recovery.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Expeditionary Strike Group 2, as well as the USS Wasp, USS Oak Hill, USS Iwo Jima and USS New York, have all participated in recovery operations so far.

Now the media is pearl-clutching about President Trump’s tweets on the situation Monday night.

But again, Gov. Rosselló made the exact same observations in an interview with CBS News earlier Monday — namely, that Puerto Rico’s finances are figuring into the recovery:

The Associated Press explains this is a cold, hard reality for Puerto Rico:

The island’s infrastructure was in sorry shape long before Maria struck. A $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. As a result the power company abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

A federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances authorized up to $1 billion in local funds to be used for hurricane response, but the governor said he would ask for more.

“We’re going to request waivers and other mechanisms so Puerto Rico can respond to this crisis,” Rossello said. “Puerto Rico will practically collect no taxes in the next month.”

In fact, CNN made this very point just hours before Irma was supposed to arrive.

But the threat of a natural disaster comes as the territory deals with a massive economic one.

Puerto Rico has been watching its economy decline for years because of enormous government overspending, a big dependence on debt and a costly, inefficient energy system.

Those problems finally led the commonwealth in May to file the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Puerto Rico has $74 billion in debt, and another $50 billion in pension obligations on the books.

And risk-management experts:

It should be noted that with the exception of one four-year term, the governor of the Commonwealth has been a Democrat since 1973.

While Congress shouldn’t delay the much-needed financial resources to begin to rebuild Puerto Rico from unprecedented devastation, the media and the talking heads attacking Trump are clearly trying to unfairly use Hurricanes Irma and Maria as a bat to beat the president with.

But is any of this new?