US territory of 3.4M residents throws federal budget 'a little out of whack', president says during visit
President Donald Trump on Tuesday jokingly criticized Puerto Rico for costing Washington money, during his first trip to the island after it was devastated last month by Hurricane Maria.
"Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack," Trump told a group of Puerto Rican officials that included Governor Ricardo Rossello.
Estimates on the damage to Puerto Rico range between $30 billion to $95 billion.
In the days after the storm, Trump faced criticism for a sluggish response in Puerto Rico compared to the recent storms that smashed the states of Texas and Florida.
The president sought to deflect the flak with a series of tweets that only worsened the situation. “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble . It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars ... owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA.”
House Speaker Ryan last week announced $6.7 billion in hurricane relief to help victims of three storms, including Maria.
In an attempt to highlight the positive aspect of his administration’s much-criticized relief efforts, Trump compared the death tolls caused from Maria in Puerto Rico, 16, and Hurricane Katrina that killed 1,833 victims in 2005 when it hit New Orleans, Louisiana.
"Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud," Trump said.
Trump praised everyone in attendance and highlighted various federal and local agencies and leaders, except San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, whom he harshly criticized last weekend for pointing out deficiencies in the administration’s response to the storm.
Cruz took exception Friday to a comment by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke's who said the Trump administration’s response was "a ‘good news’ story.”
"This is not a 'good news' story," Cruz told CNN. "This is a 'people are dying' story."
Two weeks after its worst hurricane in 90 years devastated much of Puerto Rico, the island's 3.4 million residents are still struggling to receive basic services.
Officials on the U.S. territory are urging Washingotn to provide badly needed supplies, including food and water, after Maria made landfall as a Category 5 storm.
Almost the entire island remains without power, while half the residents lack running water.