JERSEY CITY, New Jersey — President Donald Trump on Sunday scoffed at “politically motivated ingrates” who had questioned his administration’s commitment to rebuilding Puerto Rico after a pulverizing hurricane and said the federal government had done “a great job with the almost impossible situation.”
Trump’s latest tweets sought to defend Washington’s attentiveness to recovery efforts on a U.S. territory in dire straits almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck. The president spent Saturday ensconced in his New Jersey golf club and on Sunday attended an international golf competition near New York City.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” after the storm. She begged the president, who is set to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives,” and appealed for help “to save us from dying.”
Cruz said Sunday that “there’s only one goal, and it’s saving lives,” adding that all she did “was ask for help.”
“I know the good heart of the American people and I know that when a mayday sound goes off, they come to the rescue,” she said in a television interview.
Trump, meanwhile, appeared unconcerned with the optics of spending his Sunday afternoon watching The Presidents Cup at the Liberty National Golf Club as the crisis continued. Trump was a guest in the commissioner’s hospitality suite perched above the course’s 14th hole, and he waved several times at news cameras positioned briefly on the grass below.
When Trump presented the trophy to Team U.S.A., he dedicated it to the people of Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida still recovering from hurricane devastation.
“On behalf of all of the people of Texas and all of the people of — if you look today and see what’s happening, how horrible it is. But we have it under really great control,” Trump said. “Puerto Rico and the people of Florida who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes. I want to just remember them and we’re going to dedicate this trophy to all of those people that went through so much, that we love.”
As Trump spoke, someone in the crowd accused him of not caring about Puerto Rico, using a vulgarism to make the point.
Trump spent years hammering his predecessor, Barack Obama, both for playing golf and leaving Washington too often.
“President Obama should have gone to Louisiana days ago, instead of golfing,” he tweeted in August 2016 after severe flooding in the state. “Too little, too late!”
Trump’s weekend tweets have shown him to be contemptuous of any complaints about a laggard U.S. response to the natural disaster that has imperiled the island’s future. He has repeatedly blamed the media for what he sees as unfair coverage of the situation on the ground, where power is out and many people are without food, water and fuel.
“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates … people are now starting to recognize the amazing work” done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military, the president tweeted.
The day before, Trump had lashed out at Cruz, deriding “poor leadership ability” by her and others in Puerto Rico “who are not able to get their workers to help.”
He added, without elaboration, “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
In times of disasters, leaders often shelve partisan differences. But Trump has a penchant for punching back against critics, whatever the circumstances.
“When the president gets attacked, he attacks back,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, who adding that the mayor’s comments were “unfair, given what the federal government has done.”
But to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Trump’s tweets were “unspeakable.”
He characterized the president as “speaking from his fancy golf club, playing golf with his billionaire friends, attacking the mayor of San Juan, who is struggling” to bring electricity, food, water and gas to the island. “I don’t know what world Trump is living in.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who challenged Trump for the GOP presidential nomination last year, said “when people are in the middle of the disaster, you don’t start trying to criticize them. I just — I don’t know what to say.”
The Trump administration said it had more than 10,000 federal officials on the ground in Puerto Rico, and that urban search and rescue teams have covered the entire island, searching more than 2,649 structures. Fifty-nine hospitals are partially operational, and 45 percent of customers have access to drinking water, officials said. Stores are also opening, with nearly half of grocery and big-box stores, and more than 60 percent of retail gas stations open for business.
FEMA chief Brock Long said the agency has worked to fix roads, establish emergency power and deliver fuel to hospitals. He said telecommunications are available to about one-third of the island.
“Oh, I believe the Puerto Ricans are pulling their weight. I mean, I think they’re doing what they can,” he said.
Trump’s administration has tried in recent days to combat the perception that he failed to quickly grasp the magnitude of Maria’s destruction and has given the U.S. commonwealth less attention than he’d bestowed on Texas, Louisiana and Florida after they were hit by hurricanes.
“The bottom line is at least for the first week and a half the effort has been slow-footed, disorganized and not adequate,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
He urged Trump “to stop calling names, stop downgrading the motives of people who are calling for help, but roll up his sleeves and get to work.”
Cruz was on ABC’s “This Week,” Long and Mnuchin spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders and Kasich were on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Schumer appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”