President Trump complains about budget, tosses paper towels, says Puerto Rico should be ‘proud’ of death toll during visit.
President Trump whipped up a whirlwind of gaffes Tuesday during his first visit to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, where he complained about the costs of hurricane damage, belittled the scope of the devastation, repeatedly patted himself on the back, and tossed paper towel rolls like basketballs into a crowd in a church.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget out of whack,” Trump said in a meeting officials and relief workers, drawing a few stunned chuckles from the room.
“We spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine. We saved a lot of lives.”
He went on to thank the first responders and the Coast Guard for their roles in saving lives while braving the wreckage of the monster storm.
But later, he said Puerto Ricans should be “proud” of the fact that 16 people died from Maria, compared with the higher death toll of Hurricane Katrina, which he deemed “a real catastrophe.”
“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 and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands,” Trump said.
“You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”
Later Tuesday, the governor of Puerto Rico said the death toll had more than doubled to 34.
Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans in 2006, killed more than 1,800 people — a staggering toll, but not the “thousands” Trump claimed.
And the damage from the storm has been a real catastrophe.
As of Tuesday, 95% of electricity customers on the island still do not have power, and less than one-fifth of its cell towers are functional.
Less than half of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million citizens have running water, and food and supplies remain scarce for homes and hospitals alike. Nearly one-third of its 1,100 gas stations are closed, as are almost half of its 456 grocery stores. Only 50% of the major roadways have been cleared.
Present at Trump’s initial briefing was San Juan’s mayor — and Trump Twitter target — Carmen Yulín Cruz.
Cruz, who’d disputed the administration’s assertion that relief efforts have been a “good news” story, was then savaged by Trump for her “poor leadership” during the island’s crisis. He also tweeted that she had been “told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
The two shook hands after Trump touched down on the island, and she was heard telling him over airplane jets, “It’s not about politics.” He appeared not to respond.
Cruz sounded more optimistic after the meeting with Trump and cabinet officials.
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