Trump in Puerto Rico to champion storm response

Jerome Cartillier, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 04 2017 02:50 AM

US President Donald Trump flanked by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and first lady Melania Trump during a briefing on hurricane damage in Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

President Donald Trump flew into hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico Tuesday, hoping to underscore government recovery efforts and repair damage done by his contentious early response to the crisis.

Trump and First Lady Melania Trump landed at Muniz Air National Guard Base near San Juan, for a five hour visit with federal responders, troops and survivors.

On arrival Trump praised the bravery of military and civilian personnel, and said he loved the island and had visited many times before.

"The weather is second to none," he said. "But every once in a while you get hit."

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water.

Trump, who has feuded with local officials over the pace of the relief effort, claimed before leaving that even his critics were acknowledging "what a great job we have done."

"Now the roads are cleared and communication is starting to come back. Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that, so at a local level they have to give us help," he told reporters.

The administration's critics said the early response was not fast enough or large enough, prompting the pugilistic president to punch back.

Trump berated San Juan's mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz -- who was frequently on TV asking for help -- and suggested Puerto Ricans were "ingrates" who "want everything to be done for them."

Luckily for the White House, few Puerto Ricans had time or -- quite literally the energy -- to read or hear of the president's barbed remarks.

Only a dozen protestors could be seen in front of San Juan's Convention Center, where the government established their operations. 

Trump's visit will be carefully choreographed to avoid any embarrassing protests.

The White House said Trump will meet San Juan's mayor, stop at a church to visit with those affected by the hurricane, conduct an aerial tour to survey the damage before landing on the USS Kearsarge to greet Navy and Marine Corps servicemen and women.

- 'Very, very bad shape' -

Trump is also expected to meet the governor of the US Virgin Islands, which were similarly devastated by Maria, but are not quite ready for the massive footprint of a presidential visit.

Already this storm season, Trump has visited damaged areas of Florida, Louisiana and Texas (twice).

But his trip to Puerto Rico, normally a fairly routine show of presidential empathy, has taken on outsized political meaning.

"It's been amazing what's been done in a very short period of time on Puerto Rico," Trump said, defending the response.

"There's never been a piece of land that we've known that was so devastated," he claimed.

"The bridges are down, the telecommunications was nonexistent, and it's in very, very bad shape. The electrical grid, as you know, was totally destroyed."

Though Puerto Ricans are US citizens with US passports, they can only vote in presidential primaries.

If they live on the island, they cannot vote in US presidential elections. If they are living on the mainland, they can register to vote including for president, in whichever state they live. — With Andrew Beatty in Washington