Health Secretary Price resigns amid building scandal over charter travel spending

Here’s our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:


Violence! Sex! Defiance! Trump’s over-the-top presidency has changed the rules for prospective candidates

Roy Moore was twice ousted from the Alabama Supreme Court for flouting the U.S. Constitution. Now he’s on a path to become the state’s next U.S. senator.

Scott Wagner accosted a videographer recording him as he campaigned for Pennsylvania governor. He’s since won the endorsement of Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s political alter ego, and is a strong contender to win the GOP nomination.

Kid Rock, the country-rapper-rock star whose resume includes a sex tape, Waffle House brawl and enough raunchy lyrics to fill a pornographic novel, was treated as a serious prospect for Senate in Michigan until he removed himself from consideration Tuesday in characteristically colorful fashion.

“… no, I’m not running for Senate,” he said in an expletive-laden announcement on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM radio show. “Are you … kidding me?”

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

(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 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.

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.”

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, also 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.”


Trump lashes out at Puerto Ricans after mayor’s criticism of administration’s relief effort

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, left, hugs a woman while visiting a home.
(Thais Llorca / European Pressphoto Agency)

From the comfort of his New Jersey golf resort, President Trump lashed out Saturday at the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the ravaged island’s residents, defending his administration’s hurricane response by suggesting that Puerto Ricans had not done enough to help themselves.

Trump’s Twitter assault, which began early Saturday and lasted until evening, was set off by criticism from Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who on Friday had criticized the federal response since Hurricane Maria’s Sept. 20 landfall.

“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 tweeted. He added: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job.”

The president’s comments were a breathtaking and racially inflected swipe at residents who have labored for more than a week to survive without electricity, running water, food or medical supplies. Media reports have shown residents in the city and villages sweltering in line for hours with gas cans, hoping for enough fuel to run generators. Nearly every hospital in Puerto Rico lost power in the hurricane, though many have crept toward a semblance of operation. Thousands of crates of supplies have arrived in Puerto Rico, but their distribution has been slowed by destroyed roads and trucks and a shortage of drivers to deliver the goods around the island.

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U.S. in direct contact with North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting in Beijing on Sept. 30, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting in Beijing on Sept. 30, 2017.
(Andy Wong / Pool photo)

The United States is in direct contact with North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters traveling with him during a daylong visit to China.

“We ask: Would you like to talk? We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation,” he added.

Tillerson called for a calming of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, but said it was incumbent on North Korea to halt its missile launches.

Following his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials in Beijing, Tillerson said he thinks China has become deeply concerned about the North’s missile and nuclear programs and is working hard to convince Pyongyang to reenter talks. Tillerson did not say specifically what form those talks should take.

“I think the most immediate action that we need is to calm things down,” Tillerson told reporters. “They’re a little overheated right now. And I think we need to calm them down first.”

Tillerson is in China in part to prepare for President Trump’s trip there in November. The president also will visit Japan and South Korea, the two allies most directly affected by North Korea’s aggressions, as well as Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

11:25 a.m. This article was updated with staff reporting.

This article was originally published at 7:37 a.m.

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From his golf resort, Trump aims some sharp tweets at a mayor in Puerto Rico

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, left, visits a home for seniors last weekend.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, left, visits a home for seniors last weekend.
(Thais Llorca / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

A day after San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz criticized the Trump administration’s upbeat take on hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, President Trump is returning fire on Twitter.

Cruz, who has been on television almost daily since Puerto Rico was slammed by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, often criticizing the federal response, on Friday said of Trump’s self-congratulatory praise for those efforts, “We are dying & you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

From his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., on Saturday morning, Trump counterattacked in several tweets, suggesting Cruz was a poor leader who had been “told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” and complaining that Puerto Rican workers “want everything to be done for them”:


Trump boasts of doing ‘an incredible job’ in Puerto Rico, even as San Juan mayor pleads ‘save us from dying’

(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

President Trump on Friday continued to praise his administration for doing “an incredible job” responding to Puerto Rico’s devastation, though millions remain without power and clean water nine days after Hurricane Maria.

“We have done an incredible job considering there is absolutely nothing to work with,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Only moments after Trump’s self-congratulatory remarks were broadcast, however, the mayor of San Juan was televised with a damning indictment of the U.S. government’s treatment of the 3.5 million Americans on the island.

“I am begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying,” Carmen Yulin Cruz said into the cameras.

She added: “We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency,”

Though Trump earlier this week cited Cruz in a tweet, thanking her for “your kind words” about the federal response, in fact Cruz has been critical almost daily, saying officials are moving too slowly.

The world was witnessing that Puerto Ricans are treated not as “second-class citizens,” Cruz said, “but as animals that can be disposed of.”

The contrast between Trump’s optimistic take and her cries for help, plus heart-rending coverage from Puerto Rico generally, contributed to a spreading perception of a president out of touch.

White House officials have pushed back hard against allegations that the administration’s Puerto Rico response hasn’t measured up to that in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Trump pushed back as well. In his remarks as he departed for New Jersey, the president cited as he has before the unique difficulties in Puerto Rico, given both the poor condition of its infrastructure before the storm and the intensity of Maria.

“When you look at Texas and when you look at Florida, it’s a whole different level,” Trump said. “Nobody has ever seen when you have a Category 5 wipe out an island like this.”

The island’s power generation plant has been “wiped out,” the president said, adding: “It’s not like, ‘Let’s go back and fix it.’ That’s what I do — I’m a construction guy. You don’t go back and fix it, there is nothing. The power grid is gone.”

He also reiterated his concern about potential costs, saying that the amount of money needed just to replace the power grid “is really tremendous.” Trump said there would have to be talks between Washington and indebted Puerto Rico about how to pay the expenses — a suggestion he did not make about Texas and Florida.

“In the meantime,” Trump said, “we’ve saved a lot of lives. We’ve done a really good job.”


Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns after controversy over more than $400,000 in taxpayer-paid flights

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday in the midst of an expanding controversy over spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for private air flights.

His departure was announced in a terse statement by the White House.

“Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted,” the statement said.

Read Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s resignation letter

Price, a former congressman, was one of four Cabinet members facing questions about private and military airplane flights.

Until Friday night, he had been resisting Democratic calls for his firing. Politico had reported, in stories that unfolded over days, that Price had spent more than $400,000 on private domestic travel in recent months. He spent an additional half million dollars on military aircraft for events in Europe and Africa.

President Trump, asked outside the White House earlier Friday if he planned to fire Price, called him a “fine man” and said he would “make a decision sometime tonight.”

“I certainly don’t like the optics,” Trump said. “I’m not happy, I can tell you that. I’m not happy.”

Three other Cabinet members--Interior’s Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt--also have taken multiple taxpayer-paid flights on private or military aircraft.

None of the three had cost taxpayers as much as Price. The secretary said Thursday that he would repay the government $52,000, a fraction of the cost of the flights.

The attention on costly flights for members of the Trump administration came amid other problems. Investigators on Capitol Hill were looking into the use of private emails for government work by officials including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Puerto Rican officials, meantime, were lashing out at U.S. rescue efforts that were stalled or not reaching the neediest on the storm-ravaged island.

The criticism hit Trump at a difficult time, taking attention away from his newest endeavor, the tax plan he announced Wednesday in Indiana. Trump has been forced on defense at a time he could be building positive momentum that could boost his popularity and give him more power to pressure Congress his way.

That political danger underscored another: Trump’s presidential victory was powered by his contention that an outsider businessman sympathetic to overlooked Americans could conduct the government to their advantage, competently and efficiently. Central to that pitch was his promise to eradicate self-serving and self-dealing behavior—or, as his enthusiastic crowds put it often, to “Drain the Swamp.”

The multiple crises threaten to undercut him on all of those fronts, allowing opponents to redefine him as a president overlooking his own supporters while sanctioning behavior he once criticized.

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Pence to headline Koch network’s strategy session for the midterm elections

Vice President Mike Pence
(Paul Sancya / AP)

Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the keynote address next month at a retreat in Manhattan of the conservative Koch network, as wealthy donors gather to plan political and policy strategy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

The network, founded by billionaire industrialist Koch brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, has close ties to Pence, which has helped enable it to exert influence in the White House despite not endorsing President Trump in 2016.

Pence held a private conversation in June with Charles Koch ahead of the group’s Colorado Springs seminar with donors who pay $100,000 annual dues to attend network events.

Trump’s legislative director, Marc Short, previously headed the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, a chamber of commerce-style advocacy organization with an aligned political fundraising committee.

The Manhattan meeting on Oct. 12-13 will be the first in New York for the Koch donors network. Over two days, the group will focus on “shaping strategy for the upcoming Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, as well as plans to achieve important policy gains in Washington and state capitals across the country,” according to a statement.

The Koch network has promised to spend up to $400 million on issues and political advocacy in support of its free-market policies during this election cycle, through its sprawling consortium of outside groups, including Americans for Prosperity and others that sometimes outpace the traditional Republican Party infrastructure.

“We are very pleased to host the vice president at our upcoming retreat,” said network spokesman James Davis. “Our members are looking forward to his insight.”

The Koch groups, which have helped shape administrative policy, particularly on tax and regulatory reform, were poised to gain influence at the White House with the departure of top Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon. His nativist and populist ideas sometimes clashed with the more button-downed, business-oriented group.

But Bannon threatens direct competition for the Koch network now that he has been pushed from the White House — from his perch once again as editor of Breitbart News, the conservative media website. He is trying to tap his own network of wealthy donors to back candidates aligned with Trump’s “America First” agenda.

Bannon is assembling a potential slate of outsider candidates opposed to the Republican establishment, including Roy Moore, the fiery former chief justice in Alabama who defeated appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary election this week.

Allies of Bannon’s are looking for other potential candidates to challenge incumbent Republicans, including some senators who have been aligned with the Koch network.


Trump will make his first visit as president to Asia in November

(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The White House announced Friday that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will go on a five-nation Asia tour in early November, with stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as a stop in Hawaii.

The trip, scheduled Nov. 3 through 14, will include engagements with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations summit, demonstrating Trump’s “continued commitment to the alliances and partnerships of the United States in the region,” according to a statement from the White House.

Trump is slated to discuss the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region to the United States’ prosperity and security, and the importance of fair and reciprocal economic ties among trade partners, according to the statement.

“The president’s engagements will strengthen the international resolve to confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.


Why the GOP tax plan’s big boost in the standard deduction won’t be a windfall for some average Americans

(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The Republican plan to nearly double the standard deduction as part of a sweeping tax overhaul appears to be a windfall for average Americans because it would allow them to shield thousands of additional dollars from taxes.

But don’t start planning how you’d spend those savings yet.

Another untouted proposed change that would eliminate personal exemptions would significantly reduce the benefit for some people and conceivably wipe it out for others.

A family with two or more children actually could end up worse off than under the current tax code, depending on the final shape of the law, a sign that the Republican plan might not help the middle class as much as it does the wealthy.

“It is definitely not a windfall,” Jacob Leibenluft, a senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, said of the larger standard deduction.

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First group of refugees heads from Pacific camps to U.S. under deal Trump slammed as ‘dumb’

( (Refugee Action Coalition / AFP-Getty Images))

The first refugees accepted under a contentious agreement with Australia are headed to the United States, months after President Trump assailed the deal as “dumb” and not in the country’s best interests.

Fifty-four asylum-seeking refugees left Pacific island camps this week where Australia had housed them for several years. Some came from an all-male camp in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, while the others came from a camp on the island of Nauru, a U.S. State Department official said on Thursday. A number of advocacy groups have said the refugees are set to settle in cities from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

The resettlement of the refugees, mostly men from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia, is part of a deal forged between the United States and Australia under the Obama administration.

Under the agreement, about 1,250 refugees who have been refused entry to Australia and are housed in offshore detention centers will be accepted by the U.S.

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Trump falsely says Senate failed to repeal Obamacare because a senator was ‘in the hospital’

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

President Trump lately, and oddly, has taken to blaming Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week on the false claim that a GOP senator has been “in the hospital” and couldn’t make the vote.

“We have one senator who’s a ‘yes’ vote, a great person, but he’s in the hospital,” Trump said on Thursday morning’s “Fox & Friends” show.

“We have the votes to get it done. You can’t do it when somebody is in the hospital,” Trump reiterated later in the interview.

On Wednesday, he also tweeted about “one Yes vote in hospital” and later told reporters at the White House that Republicans would have the necessary votes, “but with one man in the hospital we cannot display that we have them.”

In fact, the unnamed senator is Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and while he is back in his state for medical treatment, he is not in a hospital. What’s more, according to his staff, Cochran had arranged to return to Washington if he were needed for the healthcare vote.

The Senate leadership called off the vote earlier this week after the 52-member Senate Republican majority couldn’t muster the 50 votes to pass a bill. The public opposition from three Republican senators doomed that bill to defeat

Yet, more mystifying than Trump’s false claim to have enough votes to repeal and replace Obamacare was his repeated talk of a hospitalized senator -- even after Cochran’s office on Wednesday circulated the senator’s own tweet to the contrary.

On Twitter, Cochran thanked Trump for the well-wishes but wrote that he’s “not hospitalized” but “recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s misstatements on Thursday.

“That was our understanding, that the senator was physically unable to be here this week,” she told White House reporters.

She did not explain why the White House would think that about Cochran. With close votes looming, Senate leaders routinely take pains to know where their votes are -- and senators make provision to get to the Senate if necessary.

Nor did she explain how Trump could say he has the necessary votes to pass a healthcare bill in the Senate, with or without Cochran, when Senate Republicans have said otherwise. Instead, her response further confused the matter: “We have the votes on the substance, but not on the process.”


Health Secretary Tom Price says he will partly reimburse $400,000 worth of travel on charter planes

(Riccardo Savi / TNS)

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who faces mounting criticism over his personal use of charter flights for routine travel around the country, said Thursday he would reimburse the federal government for part of the costs.

But Price did not commit to reimbursing most of the travel tab.

And even as Price expressed regret about his charter travel, which President Trump has criticized, new questions emerged about his use of military aircraft for two international trips earlier this year to Africa, Europe and East Asia.

The international trips, first reported by Politico, cost around $500,000, according to figures confirmed by the Los Angeles Times based on military data.

While use of military aircraft for foreign travel is not unprecedented, particularly for destinations not serviced regularly by commercial airlines, it is not routine for secretaries of domestic agencies and it is unclear whether such an expense was necessary for Price’s trips.

For example, Price used the military planes to travel between Berlin, Geneva and Washington, D.C., defense department records indicate. Those routes are serviced by regular commercial flights

A spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to questions about the foreign travel.

In his statement about his use of charter aircraft for domestic travel, Price appeared to indicate he made a mistake.

“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said in a statement announcing the decision.

“All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers,” he added. “It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.”

Price’s unusual use of charter flights also was first reported by Politico, which has documented more than two dozen charter flights taken by Price, costing taxpayers more than $400,000.

Health and Human Services said that Price had agreed to repay $52,000 for the flights, which included visits to a resort where he owns land and to Nashville, where he had lunch with a son. It wasn’t immediately clear how he had reached that figure.

The travel is now the subject of an investigation by the inspector general’s office at the Health and Human Services Department.

The House Oversight Committee has also asked the White House and various agencies to turn over information about any private flights.

Price’s predecessor as health secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, never took a charter flight during her roughly 3 years as President Obama’s secretary and took a military plane “a handful of times,” according to a former spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Burwell’s spouse flew once with her on a military plane, to Cuba, the spokesman said, and he reimbursed the government. A Price spokesman told Politico that Price’s reimbursement for his wife’s flights was unprecedented.

Price, an orthopedic surgeon and former Republican congressman from Georgia, faced ethics questions following his nomination over reports that he traded extensively in the stock of healthcare companies even as he pursued legislation that would have affected some of the same companies.

President Trump said Wednesday that he was “not happy” with Price’s travel, stoking speculation that Price might be forced to resign. “We’ll see,” Trump said to questions from reporters.

Price appeared to allude to that possibility in his statement Thursday.

“I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first,” he said. “It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service.”

W.J. Hennigan and Jackie Calmes in Washington contributed to this report.

This post was updated at 6:18 p.m. with information on Price’s travel by military planes.

This post was updated at 8:07 p.m. with details of Burwell’s travel.


Justice Neil Gorsuch draws protesters with speech at Trump Hotel

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch speaks at the University of Louisville on Sept. 21.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch speaks at the University of Louisville on Sept. 21.
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, on Thursday drew protesters to the Trump International Hotel when he gave his first major speech in Washington there to a conservative education group.

Several progressive groups accused Gorsuch of undercutting the court’s appearance of impartiality. They said he may be required to recuse himself if the justices are asked to decide whether Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on presidents taking an emolument from a foreign state -- as critics have suggested he is -- by profiting from foreign emissaries using the hotel.

“In an era of ruthless ideological divisions, Justice Gorsuch’s decision will undermine the court’s public legitimacy as an entity above partisan politics,” the groups said in a public letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The groups included the Planned Parenthood Federation, the Alliance for Justice and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Gorsuch also drew criticism a week ago for joining Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speak at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, McConnell’s home state.

In his role as majority leader, McConnell played the key role last year in blocking hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, which cleared the way for Trump to name Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat and the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm him this year.

In November, Gorsuch is scheduled to give the keynote address at the annual convention of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers group.

The meaning of an “emolument” is not entirely clear from the Constitution, but Trump has been sued by a watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for violating the constitutional ban. It cites the president’s ownership of the high-end hotel, situated on Pennsylvania Avenue between Congress and the White House, and said his profits could be deemed as emoluments because foreign diplomats are choosing to spend money there.

A judge in New York is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Oct. 18.


Three-star general named to coordinate military’s Puerto Rico relief efforts

Puerto Ricans head for the island's hills to find a mobile phone signal to contact family members.
Puerto Ricans head for the island’s hills to find a mobile phone signal to contact family members.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A three-star military commander was named on Thursday to manage Hurricane Maria relief efforts in devastated Puerto Rico.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, an Army infantry officer who served multiple tours in Iraq, is expected to take over at the island command headquarters set up in the convention center in San Juan, the capital. A one-star general arrived earlier in the week.

The Trump administration has been criticized for a slow and inadequate response to the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico just over a week ago, leaving the American island in ruins, without power and increasingly lacking in water and other basic necessities. The military effort is expected to expand in the coming days.

Having a commander who reports both to the governor and the military chain of command will create a “unified team” of military and civilian disaster response units, Craig Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration during the Obama administration, said in a phone interview.

A dual-status commander can marshal U.S. military forces to help clear roads, move supplies and get crews into remote places to assist in fixing the electrical grid, coordinating with public agencies and private utilities.

Fugate noted that the relief effort is hampered by a bottleneck of supplies at the Port of San Juan, and the dearth of passable roads, drivers and gasoline to move the water, food, fuel and other necessities to the communities that need them.

Those problems will not be alleviated by waiving the federal Jones Act so that foreign-flagged ships can freely transport more goods into Puerto Rico. Trump, who waived the act on Thursday, had been criticized for not doing so earlier.

His decision was “probably” more of a political one than an action to bring more aid to the island, Fugate said.

“You have all the armchair quarterbacks shouting out a lot of criticism,” Fugate said. “Sometimes it is just more politically expedient to deal with it just to tamp down all the voices.”


Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama could signal a wave of insurgent candidates like the tea party uprising

Steve Bannon speaks at a campaign event for Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Roy Moore’s upset victory in the Alabama Senate primary sent shock waves through the Republican establishment Wednesday, portending a GOP civil war as outsider candidates in other states threaten to challenge incumbents.

The potential showdowns are reminiscent of the tea party uprising that just a few years ago cost Republicans the majority in the Senate. Now President Trump’s populist rise to power — honed by his former advisor Stephen K. Bannon — has generated a new wave of long shot candidates capable of upending the 2018 midterms.

In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who met with Bannon to consider challenging two-term incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker, called the results in Alabama “a great awakening.”

“The GOP establishment’s stranglehold on American politics is finally coming to an end. It should encourage conservative challengers all across the republic,” he said. “The environment couldn’t be any better.”

Arizona’s Kelli Ward, who is challenging Sen. Jeff Flake, said after Alabama, she felt “inspired and motivated.”

“Voters elected President Trump to shake up the status quo and get big things accomplished,” she said.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is another incumbent who faces a challenge by a candidate, Danny Tarkanian, with potential backing from Bannon’s allies.

And in Tennessee, incumbent Sen. Bob Corker’s sudden retirement, announced hours before the polls closed in Alabama, sent several potential candidates scrambling for what promises to be an intense primary.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans braced for more incumbents to resign rather than face challenging nomination fights.

As a result, Republican professionals who until recently felt that their control of the Senate was secure because the states holding elections in 2018 mostly lean red have started to worry. The departure of incumbents and the rise of candidates who Democrats easily can attack as extreme might put their majority at risk, they fear. At minimum, the new wave of challengers likely means more money spent and a Senate Republican Caucus that will lean further right, and be harder to control, after the next election.

“You’re going to see in state after state after state people who follow the model of Judge Moore,” Bannon told a cheering crowd at Moore’s election night party in Montgomery. They are candidates “that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington, D.C., New York City, in Silicon Valley,” he said.

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise returns to work at Capitol after June shooting

The congressman shot in June at a baseball practice is returning to work at the Capitol after three months in the hospital and at a rehabilitation facility.

That’s the word from Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s office. The Louisiana Republican will vote Thursday morning and address his colleagues on the House floor. This is his first public appearance since the shooting.

Scalise and four other people were injured June 14 when a gunman opened fire on a Republican baseball practice in nearby Alexandria, Va. U.S. Capitol Police and other officers returned fire and killed the gunman. The rifle-wielding attacker had nursed grievances against President Trump and the GOP.

The 51-year-old congressman was struck in the hip, and the bullet tore into blood vessels, bones and internal organs.


Trump plans to slash refugee admissions by more than half

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

President Trump plans to slash the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States by more than half, pressing a longer-term goal of limiting legal immigration and imposing tougher vetting procedures for foreign visitors.

The Trump administration has told Congress it will limit refugee admissions to about 45,000 in the fiscal year that starts Sunday. That’s down sharply from the 110,000 cap in President Obama’s last year in office, though only about 52,000 were actually admitted because of restrictions put in place after Trump took office.

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Here’s why Trump’s tax plan will hit Californians especially hard

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Many Californians face a big financial hit under the Republican tax plan, which would eliminate a major tax break that benefits state residents more than those anywhere else in the U.S.

The federal deduction for state and local taxes allowed Californians to reduce their taxable income by $101 billion in 2014, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

The tax outline released Wednesday by President Trump and top congressional Republicans would ax the break, which largely benefits residents in states that are Democratic strongholds.

“Republicans in Washington have once again zeroed in on California to punish us and make our state the single biggest loser in their reckless tax scheme,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the elimination of the deduction was one reason the plan was a “non-starter” for her.

“I don’t believe California should suffer in order for President Trump to give tax cuts to the rich,” she said.

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Here’s why California’s early 2020 primary is destined to pick the next president. (Nah, not really)

Today we answer questions.

Woo-hoo! Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the bill, it looks like California is moving up its 2020 presidential primary. Finally!


No more watching from the sidelines as small-fry states like Iowa and New Hampshire throw their weight around.


I’m already fluffing pillows and prepping the guestroom for all the 2020 hopefuls who’ll be camped out.


What? You don’t seem too excited.

Look, it would be great if California voted in a truly meaningful presidential primary. It’s been about 50 years since that happened. But it’s about as likely in 2020 as President Trump dumping Vice President Pence and running for reelection on a unity ticket with Hillary Clinton.

How can that be?

Lots of reasons, both political and practical.

Do tell.

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Twitter to talk to House and Senate as part of probe into Russia’s election meddling

Social media giant Twitter will visit Capitol Hill on Thursday as part of the House and Senate investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Twitter’s closed-door meetings with staff follow similar briefings from Facebook earlier this month, and the House and Senate panels have invited both tech giants, along with Google, to appear at public hearings this fall. The committees are scrutinizing the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media, to what extent Russia was involved and whether anyone in the United States helped target those stories.

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After criticism, Trump to waive Jones Act, allowing assistance to reach hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

(Los Angeles Times )

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Thursday morning that Trump would waive the Jones Act, effective immediately, at the request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, allowing assistance to reach the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory.

The Jones Act is a 97-year-old maritime law that says shipping between ports in the United States must be done by U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-built ships operated by U.S. citizens.

The Jones Act entered the news this week after the federal government waived its restrictions to ease relief efforts for Texas and Florida after their recent hurricanes, but not for Puerto Rico, whose stranded residents are desperate for water, food, medicine and other basic supplies.

As of Wednesday, about 97% of the island’s residents still lacked power, Rossello said, and about half remained without running water.

Increasingly desperate local officials have demanded more help from the federal government and faster delivery of what aid is coming.

“They’re going very slowly. The aid isn’t getting to people fast enough. We seem to be losing a lot of time in jurisdictional trifles,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said in an interview Wednesday.

“People are dying,” she said. “We don’t have time for that.”

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Trump hints at firing Health Secretary Tom Price over airplane use

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump on Wednesday said he was “not happy” about Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s repeated use of taxpayer-funded expensive charter flights, and did not rule out firing the Cabinet member.

“I’m not happy about it. I am not happy about it. I’m going to look at it,” said Trump. Asked if Price’s job was on the line, he replied: “We’ll see.”

Politico has documented more than two dozen charter flights taken by Price, to the tune of more than $400,000. They included visits to a resort where he owns land and a lunch with his son.

His department’s inspector general is probing the flights, and the House Oversight Committee has asked the White House and various agencies to turn over information about private flights.

Such flights are typically not allowed if there are cheaper commercial options, which Politico said there were for Price’s flights.

Trump’s remarks were the latest example of the White House distancing itself from Price’s actions. On Monday, asked about the flights during a media briefing, Press Sescretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “this wasn’t White House-approved travel.”

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Health Secretary Tom Price under scrutiny after spending more than $400,000 on taxpayer-funded travel

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The head of Health and Human Services ran up a six-figure tab flying around the country on private jets.

Politico has documented 26 flights by Secretary Tom Price on private charter planes at taxpayer expense since early May, estimating the cost at more than $400,000. It found frequent, low-cost airline flights on some of the routes he took, as well as train fares as low as $72 for a trip between Washington and Philadelphia — as opposed to about $25,000 for his charter.

Two of Price’s private jet trips paid for by the government were to places where he owns property — St. Simons Island, Ga., and Nashvile, Politico reported. A department spokesman said Price conducted official business and visited family members and colleagues.

On Wednesday, President Trump said he’s “not happy’” about Price’s use of private jet.

Price has previously called for deep spending and staffing cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services, including a $6-billion reduction at the National Institutes of Health, opening him to charges of both poor judgment and hypocrisy.

When he was a Georgia congressman, he spoke out against a proposed purchase of small planes to transport government officials, including members of Congress. “This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now,” he told CNBC.

On Saturday, Price said he would forgo private flights at taxpayer expense pending an internal review, conceding in a Fox News interview that his behavior created an image problem. (Price is a relative pauper in Trump’s Cabinet, with $22 million or so in assets.)

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GOP gives up on voting on Obamacare repeal, but bipartisan approaches remain in doubt

Protesters are removed from a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Members of Congress searched for a way forward on healthcare legislation Tuesday, but as they did, the wreckage of the latest Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act continued to threaten to block the way for bipartisan progress.

Senate Republicans, emerging from their weekly policy lunch, said they would not move ahead with a vote on the most recent repeal legislation, sponsored by Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The public opposition from three Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine — had doomed that bill to defeat.

“We haven’t given up on changing the American healthcare system,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “We are not going to be able to do that this week. But it still lies ahead of us.”

McConnell, Graham and other leading Republicans insisted the repeal effort would be revived later, likely next year.

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Trump, GOP tax plan has a lot for businesses to like, and a lot of questions for everyone else

President Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington on Sept. 26.
(Shawn Thew / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The Republican tax overhaul has a lot for businesses to like — and a lot of unanswered questions for everyone else.

According to the plan, which Republican officials outlined on Wednesday, many businesses would see a huge reduction in their tax bills and many middle-class Americans would see tax relief. The plan would reduce the number of individual tax brackets to three from seven and nearly double the standard deduction.

President Trump is scheduled to pitch the plan during a speech in Indianapolis on Wednesday. The release of the framework kicks off a scramble by lawmakers to hammer out the details, craft legislation and, if all goes according to plan, pass legislation by the end of the year.

“This framework will deliver a 21st century tax code that is built for growth, supports middle-class families, defends our workers, protects our jobs and puts America first,” said the nine-page document setting out the parameters of the tax proposal.

But most of the key details for individual taxpayers are yet to be worked out, including the income levels for the new tax brackets and whether the individual tax cuts would favor the wealthy.

There’s more certainty for businesses.

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New Republican tax outline gives huge cuts to businesses, but details of individual relief are less certain

White House economic advisor Gary Cohn, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the White House in April.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Businesses would receive huge tax cuts and many middle-class Americans would see relief under a tax overhaul outline agreed to by President Trump and top congressional Republicans, according to people familiar with the plan.

But many of the specifics, such as whether the individual tax cuts would favor the wealthy, are still to be worked out.

After months of high-level negotiations, Trump will pitch what the party is calling its “unified tax reform framework” during a speech in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Crucial details still must be worked out by lawmakers as they try to craft legislation and pass it by the end of the year.

Republican leaders have acknowledged that the plan, if enacted, initially would add to the budget deficit. They claim that stronger economic growth spurred by the tax cuts eventually would offset the deficit increase. Democrats challenge that, based on experience with past tax cuts.

According to people familiar with the plan, it calls for slashing the 35% U.S. corporate tax rate to 20%. That’s not as low as Trump wanted, but is still a gigantic reduction, to the lowest top rate since 1940. The United States no longer would tax most foreign earnings.

Businesses have been lobbying heavily for a reduction in the corporate rate. It is the highest rate among developed nations, although many companies pay a lower rate, if any tax at all, by using loopholes and deductions.

So-called pass-through businesses that pay taxes through the individual code — from mom-and-pop operations to large partnerships such as law firms, hedge funds and some of Trump’s own businesses — would see their top tax rate drop to 25% from 39.6%.

For individuals, there is much less clarity.

The current seven tax brackets would be reduced to three: 12%, 25% and 35%. But Congress still must determine what the income levels are for those brackets.

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Tired of not winning? Trump deletes his tweets endorsing the losing Senate candidate in Alabama

President Trump was all-in for the man he called “Big Luther” -- Alabama’s Sen. Luther Strange, the Republican appointed to replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions when Sessions became Trump’s attorney general. Repeatedly the president endorsed Strange on his favored medium, Twitter, and campaigned with Strange on Friday at a raucous rally in Birmingham, Ala.

Strange was the underdog from the start but Trump repeatedly boasted that, thanks to his backing, “Big Luther” was “shooting up” in the polls. As many expected, however, the winner of the Republican runoff contest on Tuesday was zealously Christian conservative Roy Moore, who twice was suspended from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying federal law in favor of what he calls “God’s law.”

By Wednesday morning, some of Trump’s tweets documenting his support for loser Strange, including the one above, were gone from his personal Twitter account. The deleted Tweets were tracked by ProPublica, including these:

Not all of the tweets about Strange disappeared. As of Wednesday morning, several remained live.

Once the election results were in, Trump tweeted to congratulate Moore -- first on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning. As it happens, Trump’s allegiance to Strange was in question even before voters cast ballots.

Amid his effusive pro-Strange tweets, and his boasts of boosting the incumbent’s standing, Trump had mused aloud that he might have backed the wrong horse -- even from the Birmingham stage with Strange.

Because, as Trump has often said, he likes to win. And if he doesn’t, delete the evidence.


Taliban claims attack on Kabul airport during visit by U.S. defense secretary and NATO secretary-general

( AMID /EPA-EFE / REX /Shutterstock)

At least five civilians including a woman were wounded after several rockets were fired toward the international airport in Kabul, officials said Wednesday.

The attack came as Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg were in the Afghan capital for a visit and just hours before they held a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Najib Danish, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said one of the rockets stuck a home near the airport, wounding the five victims. He said one of them was a woman who was “not in a good health condition.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on his official Twitter account.

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Trump leaves the Washington ‘swamp’ to dine with donors in Manhattan

(Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump returned to one of his high-priced haunts in Manhattan to raise money for the Republican Party on Tuesday, as Republicans in Congress failed again to pass a healthcare bill and the Senate candidate that he and other party leaders favored was losing a special Alabama election.

Trump dined with about 150 donors from New York’s real estate and financial industries at the famous circus-themed Le Cirque restaurant on the Upper East Side. Some attendees paid six-figure sums for the company of a president who often decries what he calls Washington’s pay-to-play “swamp.”

The Republican National Committee and the Trump Victory Fund expected the event to raise about $5 million to help protect Republicans’ majorities in the Senate and the House in next year’s midterm election.

The White House declined to let reporters traveling with the president attend any part of the fundraising activities or hear Trump’s remarks. In years past, reporters typically have been allowed to at least attend a president’s speech at fundraisers.

Trump similarly held fundraisers at Le Cirque for his presidential campaign last year, and for decades he was a regular at the restaurant. It has fallen on hard times, however, filing for bankruptcy in March and slipping to a one-star rating from the New York Times’ restaurant critic.

Donors paid a minimum of $35,000 for two tickets to attend the event. Couples who paid $100,000 were given “VIP access” and $250,000 bought two seats to a “roundtable discussion” with the president, according to Cassie Smedile, national press secretary for the RNC.

Among the attendees was casino and hotel owner Steve Wynn. Trump also met with RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, who took over the party after Reince Priebus left the RNC to be Trump’s first chief of staff in January.

Trump’s dinner came as Alabama’s Republican voters were choosing their Senate candidate in an early test of the value of Trump’s endorsement -- and the president lost.

He strongly endorsed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, campaigning for him in the state on Friday, but Strange, who was appointed to the Senate seat when former Sen. Jeff Sessions became Trump’s attorney general, lost to conservative challenger Roy Moore. The result became clear about the time Trump was leaving New York.

This post was updated at 6:15 p.m. to reflect the result of the Alabama Republican primary for the Senate vacancy.


At Cuba’s urgent request, Tillerson meets with his counterpart over attacks at U.S. embassy in Havana

(European Pressphoto Agency)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a hurriedly arranged meeting on Tuesday with his Cuban counterpart as the United States considers closing its embassy in Havana after mysterious ailments afflicted 21 U.S. diplomats there.

The late-day meeting came at the request of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, U.S. officials said. He had no comment as he left the State Department.

The Cuban government has professed to be as confounded by the illnesses as Washington is; the U.S. has suspected an attack, but one of still undetermined origin.

The attacks have been described as possible sonic waves or other high-pitched sound bombardments. The victims reported loss of hearing and dizziness, and two may have suffered minor brain damage.

Speculation has centered on possible rogue elements of the Cuban military or third parties, like Russia or Iran.

The injured people were removed from Cuba. The attacks apparently started in 2016, with the most recent one in August.

Ironically, the mysterious incident occurred as relations between Havana and Washington have improved.

Tillerson said a week ago that closing the embassy was “under evaluation.” It had only been opened a year ago as the two countries normalized diplomatic ties after more than half a century.

Two Cuban diplomats were expelled from Washington in response to the illnesses. But the State Department says Havana has been cooperating with the investigation.

However, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan expressed more skepticism, testifying before Congress on Tuesday that Cuban authorities must have at least known what was going on, given their tight surveillance of American diplomats.

It was not clear what information Rodriguez, the Cuban foreign minister, brought to the meeting. Speaking ahead of it, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We’ll have plenty of questions for them.”

Later, the Cuban government put out a statement saying that Rodriguez had reassured Tillerson of the speed, seriousness and professionalism with which Havana was investigating the incidents, which it called unprecedented.

Rodriguez said no cause had yet been determined, and he asked that the two expelled Cuban diplomats be allowed to return to their functions.

He also said it would be “regrettable that a matter of this nature is politicized and that hasty decisions not supported by conclusive evidence and investigation results are taken” - an allusion to the possibility of the Americans closing their embassy.

This post was updated at 3:15 p.m. to reflect that the meeting had ended.

This post was updated at 7:15 p.m. to add Cuba’s statement.


Roger Stone denies collusion with Russia during Trump campaign

Republican political consultant Roger Stone testified Tuesday to a House committee investigating whether President Trump’s aides had improper contacts with Moscow during last year’s campaign.

Stone later denied to reporters that he had cooperated with Russian agents or operatives during the race, and said he knew of no one else who did so either.

“I am aware of no evidence whatsoever of collusion by the Russian state or anyone in the Trump campaign,” Stone said after he had appeared for nearly three hours in a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee.

But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) told reporters that Stone, a combative Republican operative who began his career under President Nixon, had declined to answer some of the panel’s questions, raising the possibility that Stone might be called back under subpoena.

“We hope that he will cooperate in the future,” Schiff said. “If not it will be necessary to subpoena him to bring him back and answer those important questions.”

Schiff declined to say what questions Stone had declined to answer.

Like Trump, Stone is outspoken and given to spinning conspiracy theories. He left the Trump campaign soon after it was launched in mid-2015 but continued to maintain contact with Trump.

He landed in the Democrats’ cross-hairs partly due to his own boasts and tweets.

Congressional investigators are especially interested in learning how Stone was able to predict last summer that WikiLeaks would soon disclose digital documents related to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign — a prediction that proved accurate.

WikiLeaks released thousands of private emails pilfered from computer networks used by the Democratic National Committee days later, including some that undermined Clinton’s campaign.

Stone said after his testimony Tuesday that he had refused to identify his source. He said an “opinion journalist,” who he said was in touch with fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, had told him that the anti-secrecy website was planning to publish the stolen emails.

In another incident last summer, Stone appeared to also foreshadow the release of emails allegedly stolen by Russian hackers from the Gmail account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, by tweeting that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

Podesta’s pilfered emails appeared online soon after.

Stone released a 47-page statement to the committee that accused Democrats on the panel of making “probably false statements” about links between Trump campaign aides and Russia.

Though Stone volunteered in March to appear before the panel, he called the closed-door hearing “a political proceeding” and accused the committee of cowardice for not letting him testify in public.

The panel is one of four congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump aides and family members had improper contacts with Moscow.

Stone said he had not heard from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is overseeing a separate criminal probe into Russian contacts with Trump’s aides and into the White House response to the scandal.

Investigators from Mueller’s office are expected to begin interviewing White House aides in coming weeks, an official familiar with the probe said.

Roger Stone in Florida in March
( (Michael Ares / Palm Beach Post))


Trump defends administration’s aid to Puerto Rico, denies he was distracted by his fight with NFL players

Officials survey damage in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump denied on Tuesday that his administration had been slow to respond to Puerto Rico’s hurricane devastation because he’d been distracted by his five-day feud with protesting NFL players.

At a news conference in the Rose Garden with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey of Spain, Trump repeatedly said Puerto Rican officials had praised his administration’s efforts. Those same officials have begged for more assistance to the island, which suffered grievous damage earlier this month from Hurricane Maria, after a near-hit from Hurricane Irma.

On his favorite communications platform, Twitter, Trump had not mentioned Puerto Rico from Sept. 20 until Monday night. In the interim, he had written dozens of tweets, many on his criticisms of NFL players who kneel during the pre-game rendition of the national anthem to protest police brutality toward African Americans.

“I wasn’t preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place,” Trump said in reply to a question.

He pressed what has been his argument in recent days: that the protesters were taking a stand against patriotism and military service members. “I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem,” he said.

“I’ve heard that before, about, ‘Was I preoccupied?’ ” Trump added. “Not at all, not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work. And to be honest with you, that’s an important function of working — is called respect for our country.”

A Department of Defense assessment concluded that Puerto Rico’s entire electrical system is damaged and almost half of the population lacks drinking water. One of every 7 hospitals is without fuel or power needed for machines assisting patients.

Trump said part of the difficulty in getting adequate supplies to Puerto Rico is its location.

“It’s the most difficult job because it’s on the island — it’s on an island in the middle of the ocean. It’s out in the ocean,” he said. “You can’t just drive your trucks there from other states.”

Returning to the subject later, the president said, “This isn’t like Florida, where we can go right up the spine, or like Texas, where we go right down the middle and we distribute. This is, you know, a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff.”

Trump said that as he spoke, U.S. officials were unloading “massive” amounts of food, water and supplies for Puerto Rico, whose 3.5 million residents are American citizens.

The president announced earlier that he would visit Puerto Rico next week on Tuesday.

“The governor has been so incredible in his — in his statements about the job we’re doing,” Trump said. “We’re doing a great job.”

Trump also used the news conference to reiterate a threat to North Korea. Its foreign minister said that Trump’s previous statements constituted a declaration of war, and that Pyongyang may take aim at U.S. military planes flying nearby.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” or “Little Rocket Man,” a reference to the nation’s development of nuclear weapons and its frequent missile test launches.

Asked for his reaction to the threats from North Korea, Trump said that the U.S. was “totally prepared for the second option” — a military option.

“Not a preferred option, but if we take that option, it will be devastating — I can tell you that — devastating for North Korea,” he said. “That’s called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.”

As he has previously, Trump blamed past presidents for failing to curb North Korea’s nuclear advances.

“It could have been handled much more easily. Yet various administrations, many — which left me a mess,” he said. “But I’ll fix the mess.”