Doug Mills/New York Times
During a briefing with US and Puerto Rico officials Tuesday, President Trump griped about the cost of aiding the ravaged island as it recovers from Hurricane Maria while simultaneously patting members of his administration on the back.
Trump also said some things that could be interpreted as rather insensitive during Puerto Rico’s time of need.
Here’s a look at the quotes from Trump’s briefing that raised some eyebrows.
As Trump introduced Mick Mulvaney, who is “in charge of a thing called the budget,” the president went on a bit of a tangent.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico,” Trump scolded. “But that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
Trump, as he sought praise from those in the room, compared the victims of Hurricane Maria to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds that died . . . 16 people [in Puerto Rico] versus in the thousands [in Louisiana], you can be very proud of all your people, all our people,” Trump said. “Everybody around this table and everybody watching could be very proud of what has taken place in Puerto Rico.”
After speaking about the season’s earlier hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, Trump began to describe the one that slammed into Puerto Rico.
“This has been the toughest one. This has been a Category 5, which few people have ever even heard of. A Category 5 hitting land — and it hit land, and boy did it hit land,” Trump said.
In his long list of commendations, the president was praising the US Coast Guard when he turned to a man seated at a side table — someone he presumed was from the Coast Guard, who could speak to the team’s efforts in Puerto Rico.
Problem was, he wasn’t a Coast Guard representative at all.
“Would you like to say something?” Trump asked the man.
The man politely responded: “Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.”
Trump immediately answered: “No, I know that,” asking the man instead to talk about Air Force efforts.
After the man made brief comments, Trump began giving himself credit for outfitting the Air Force with F-35 fighter jets — before lamenting the price.
“You can’t see it. It’s hard to fight a plane that you can’t see, right? But that’s an expensive plane that you can’t see,” he said.
Afterwards, Trump circled back to his original point: “Where is the Coast Guard?” he demanded. “Where is our Coast Guard representative?”
Trump said that instead of outright thanking the US Marines, he could introduce his new chief of staff, former Marine General John F. Kelly.
“I don’t even have to mention the Marines because we have General Kelly — where is General Kelly?” Trump asked. “He likes to keep a low profile. He’s sitting in the back, but boy is he watching. General Kelly — he’s a four star, not a bad general. You don’t get any better than General Kelly.”
The comments came after reports surfaced in September that Trump lashed out at Kelly after aides suggested the president refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing. According to the New York Times, Kelly reacted calmly, but later told other staffers that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment.
As he closed out the briefing, Trump bestowed upon Puerto Rico a bit of a backhanded compliment.
“It’s an honor to work with you folks, and we’ll all get it done together,” Trump said. “I appreciate your support and I know you appreciate our support because our country has really gone all out to help. It’s dangerous, it’s expensive, it’s everything. I consider it a great honor, maybe because I know so many people from Puerto Rico that are such great people. I come from New York. But we’ve gone all out and I consider that a great honor.”
Shortly before he left Washington on Tuesday, Trump seemed to be patting himself on the back as he talked to reporters before saying that Puerto Rico needs to give the US “more help” with the relief effort.
Asked about San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz — who Trump condemned this weekend after she criticized the federal relief effort — the president said he thought she had “come back a long way.”
“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” Trump said. “The first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico. And whether it’s her or anybody else, they’re all starting to say it.”
And Trump, appearing to resurface false reports that truck drivers in Puerto Rico had gone on strike, said, “We need their truck drivers. Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that. On a local level, they have to give us more help.”
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