BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump on Saturday lashed out at the mayor of San Juan and other officials in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, contemptuous of their claims of a laggard U.S. response to the natural disaster that has imperiled the island’s future.
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump said in a series of tweets a day after the capital city’s mayor appealed for help “to save us from dying.”
“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote from his New Jersey golf club.
The tweets amounted to a biting response to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who had accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” after Hurricane Maria. She implored the president, who is set to visit the U.S. territory on Tuesday, to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” Cruz said at a news conference, her voice breaking with rage. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
Trump had repeatedly praised the residents of Florida, Louisiana and Texas, which were also hit by devastating storms, as strong and resilient, declaring at one point that Texas could “handle anything.”
Trump has pledged to spare no effort to help Puerto Rico recover from Maria’s ruinous aftermath, and tweeted that military personnel and first responders have done “an amazing job,” despite having “no electric, roads, phones etc.”
But after a week of growing criticism, the president’s patience appears to be waning. His 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 states hit by Harvey and Irma.
After going days without mentioning the hurricane-devastated island after the storm, administration officials have held numerous press conferences describing their relief efforts and Trump has mentioned Puerto Rico at nearly every public event.
Thousands more Puerto Ricans have received water and rationed food as an aid bottleneck has begun to ease. Telecommunications are back for about 30 percent of the island, nearly half of the supermarkets have reopened at least for reduced hours and about 60 percent of the gas stations are pumping. But many remain desperate for necessities, most urgently water, long after the Sept. 20 hurricane.
Trump is scheduled to spend an hour Saturday checking in by phone with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and other local officials.
Trump’s Saturday tweets are the latest example of his insistence on “punching back,” even against those with far less power. After a deadly terror attack in London in June, Trump singled out London Mayor Sadiq Khan, suggesting he wasn’t taking the attacks seriously enough.
Cruz declined to engage in the tit-for-tat, instead calling for a united focus on the people who need help. “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our ‘true colors.’ We cannot be distracted by anything else,” she tweeted, along with photos of herself meeting with residents and rescue workers, wading hip-deep through a flooded street and comforting an elderly woman.