President Donald Trump met with local leaders and federal responders shortly after landing at an Air Force base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, for what was supposed to be a briefing on the situation on the island.
Instead, Trump turned it into an opportunity to congratulate himself and the federal government’s response to the disaster and to say the island should be “very proud” of its low official death count.
He downplayed throughout his remarks how dire things are in Puerto Rico, where more than half of the people don’t have power, running water, or cellphone service two weeks after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, tore through the island.
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Trump delivered a bizarre, train-of-thought speech during his first stop, a meeting with military and local leaders, repeatedly applauding the response to the disaster and congratulating his staff. People who live on the island are still widely without electricity, running water, telecommunications, and access to basic aid.
But in the midst of the celebration, Trump — in a seeming attempt to congratulate local officials on what he determined to be a low death count — compared the hurricane to Katrina, which brought up to 1,800 fatalities along Gulf Coast and the obliteration of several poorer neighborhoods of New Orleans
“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 with a story that was just totally overpowering,” Trump said.
“What is your death count?” Trump asked the Puerto Rican governor, Ricardo Rossello. “Sixteen, certified” he replied. “Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” he said, comparing it to Katrina.
From the Washington Post:
The president also seemed to fault the small island for imperiling the United States’s budget by requiring hurricane relief funds, saying, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.
Before Trump’s impromptu remarks, the president’s visit was intended to be highly scripted, including a briefing on relief efforts, a meeting with senior military personnel — as well as with Govs. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico and Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands — and an opportunity to visit with people impacted by the storm and the Navy and Marine Corps.