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Trump assails 'politically motivated ingrates' as San Juan mayor renews pleas for more help

 (European Pressphoto Agency)
(European Pressphoto Agency)

President Trump on Sunday morning assailed “politically motivated ingrates” for criticizing the speed and scope of the federal recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Maria, while praising first responders, the military, Puerto Rico's governor and federal workers.

His remarks were in a series of posts on Twitter, just as on Saturday morning when Trump first unleashed attacks on his critics in Puerto Rico from his New Jersey golf resort. While less acidic than those a day earlier that drew a strong backlash, the tweets signaled that Trump is comfortable keeping the furor alive -- two days before he is to visit the island on Tuesday.

Maria, a Category 4 storm, devastated Puerto Rico, whose 3.4 million residents are U.S. citizens. It struck on Sept. 20, hard on the heels of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which raked Texas and Florida respectively. Puerto Rico, too, was picking up after Irma's damage even as Maria slammed it.

In the first of two dozen tweets on Saturday, Trump attacked the “poor leadership” of the mayor of ravaged San Juan, who had criticized him in pleading for more aid, suggested that Puerto Ricans officials were “not able to get their workers to help” and said islanders "want everything to be done for them."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, appearing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” for a second day declined to respond directly to Trump’s personal criticism of her, saying: “There’s only one goal, and that’s saving lives.”

Cruz also said she appreciated the efforts of responders, including those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but felt they had not been given sufficient means to help those in the most dire need. For example, she said, people were being told to register online for aid, but very few have access to the internet.   

“I recognize the good heart that the FEMA people have, and they want to help,” she said. “They just don’t have the resources.”

On Sunday news-talk shows, Trump’s aides sought to portray the president as the aggrieved party in his Twitter onslaught against Cruz. “When the president gets attacked, he attacks back, and I think the mayor’s comments were unfair given what the federal government has done,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The president's weekend tweets have galvanized critics, including prominent artists like "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and an array of lawmakers, mainly Democrats. Some of the most fiery commentary came from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who contested the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

“You know, speaking from his fancy golf club, playing golf with his billionaire friends, attacking the mayor of San Juan, who is struggling to bring electricity to the island, food to the island, water to the island, gas to the island, that is just -- it is unspeakable,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding: “I don't know what world Trump is living in.”

Trump’s defenders have cited enormous logistical obstacles and the heavy strain placed on responders by the two previous hurricanes. William “Brock” Long, the FEMA administrator, pointed Sunday to round-the-clock efforts to repair the electrical grid and get basic supplies like food and water to cut-off areas.

“We’ve pushed everything into that island that we can,” said Long, interviewed on “This Week.” Asked about Trump’s suggestion that Puerto Ricans were not doing enough to help themselves, Long said, “I believe in the Puerto Ricans. They’re pulling their weight.”

Long pointed to the “Herculean effort” being made to help the island and its people recover, but conceded: “We got a long way to go.”

Mnuchin, Long and another senior administration official, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, renewed criticism Sunday of Cruz, saying she has not cooperated sufficiently with federal officials.

"It is unfortunate that the San Juan mayor wants to sort of go against the grain,” Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding, “We’d love to have her on the team as we all pull in the same direction.”

Cruz said in the ABC interview that while she wanted to see federal efforts become more effective, she would willingly speak with Trump when he visits Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

“If he asks to meet with me, of course I will meet with him,” she said. “Anything that can be done, and anyone that can listen.”

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