White House spokesman twice calls Puerto Rico ‘that country’ in TV interview

The town of Yabucoa in Puerto Rico is shown after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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Washington Post

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley twice referred to Puerto Rico as “that country” during a television appearance Tuesday in which he defended a series of tweets by President Trump lashing out at leaders of the U.S. territory.

In two bursts of tweets — one late Monday night and another Tuesday morning — Trump complained about the amount of federal relief money going to the island and called its politicians “incompetent or corrupt.”

He also claimed that Puerto Rico “got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane,” a figure that actually reflects a high-end, long-term estimate for recovery costs. Only a fraction of that has so far been budgeted, and even less has been spent.


As he pressed to defend Trump’s contentions, Gidley sought to make the case that the leaders of the territory, whose residents are U.S. citizens, had mishandled the aid they’d received thus far.

“With all they’ve done in that country, they’ve had a systematic mismanagement of the goods and services we’ve sent to them,” Gidley said in the interview on MSNBC. “You’ve seen food just rotting in the ports. Their governor has done a horrible job. He’s trying to make political hay in a political year, and he’s trying to find someone to take the blame off of him for not having a grid and not having a good system in that country at all.”

Gidley later attributed his misstatements to “a slip of the tongue.”

During the interview, Gidley was also asked about a tweet in which Trump said Puerto Rico’s leaders “only take from the USA.”

Asked to clarify how Trump viewed the status of Puerto Ricans, Gidley said Trump was supportive of its people, noting that he traveled there after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.

“He gave them a lot of money,” Gidley said. “They have mismanaged and misused that money. It hurts their people. That’s what he’s upset about.”