Trump, in Puerto Rico, Compares Death Toll With ‘Real Catastrophe,’ Katrina’s – New York Times

“You were really generous,” Mr. Trump replied. “It’s so hard when you have men and women that have worked so hard and so long, and many of them came from two other catastrophic hurricanes.”

The president then went around the table, praising the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, military commanders and a half-dozen members of his Cabinet who accompanied him to Puerto Rico.

Singling out Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, Mr. Trump said, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’re throwing our budget out of whack.” Looking around the room for his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who was standing in the back, Mr. Trump said, “Boy, is he watching.”

Before leaving the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Trump told reporters that Ms. Cruz was now mostly satisfied.

“I think she’s come back a long way,” the president said. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.” He asserted that the relief effort was as competent as those in Texas and Florida, and he added, “It’s actually a much tougher situation.”

Mr. Trump, however, repeated his earlier criticism that Puerto Ricans were not doing enough to help themselves. Despite the roads being cleared and communications being re-established, he said, truck drivers were not transporting enough supplies. “We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks,” he said. “On a local level, they have to give us more help.”

On Saturday, after Ms. Cruz angrily disputed the Trump administration’s assertion that the relief effort was going well, he said in a Twitter post that she had been instructed by Democrats to be “nasty to Trump,” and added that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.”

White House officials have been nervous that if protesters greeted Mr. Trump, it might set him off again. As late as Monday afternoon, some aides were urging the president to delay the visit, which comes a day before he was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas to meet with law enforcement officials and victims of the mass shooting there.

In Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump’s schedule limited his exposure to the public. After the briefing at the Muñiz Air National Guard Base, he met with storm victims at a church.

The president handed out packages of rice, stamped “Arroz Rico,” to the crowd, declaring, “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love,” according to a pool report. He also gently tossed rolls of paper towels into the crowd.

Later in the afternoon, Mr. Trump was scheduled to fly to a Navy amphibious assault ship for meetings with the governors of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

The White House asked the governor of the Virgin Islands, Kenneth E. Mapp, to fly to Puerto Rico because of the logistical complications of having the president and his entourage travel to those islands, parts of which have been severely damaged.

The president has gotten more comfortable with these visits, after traveling to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma. On Tuesday, he wore his now-familiar uniform: a blue windbreaker with the presidential seal and white baseball cap, emblazoned with the letters U.S.A.

Melania Trump, the first lady, accompanied the president, as she has on previous visits to storm-ravaged areas. She wore a navy blue sweater and pants, and stiletto heels, as she left the White House. But, as on earlier trips, she changed while en route into more practical boots and her own baseball cap.

Since the weekend, Mr. Trump has sharply scaled back his Twitter posts about the hurricanes or other potentially fraught issues. But speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he continued to emphasize the government’s performance rather than the plight of the victims.

“In Texas and in Florida, we get an A+,” he said. “And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico.”

“The first responders, the military, FEMA — they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Trump continued. “And whether it’s her or anybody else,” he said, referring to Ms. Cruz, “they’re all starting to say it.”

Nearly two weeks after the storm swept over Puerto Rico, the military has continued to funnel troops and supplies to prop up the island’s degraded infrastructure, including a dam and a barely functioning cellular network.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said that the Comfort, a hospital ship, was scheduled to anchor in San Juan’sharbor, and the arrival of the amphibious assault ship Wasp had helped increase the overall number of aircraft supporting relief efforts on the island from 57 to 80.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Tuesday that 10,000 service members were deployed to Puerto Rico, 4,000 of them on active duty.

Despite the influx of relief, much of the island lacks basic amenities and electricity. More than 50 of the island’s roughly 65 functioning hospitals are running on generators, the Pentagon said. Additionally, according to statistics released by FEMA, only 50 percent of Puerto Rico has access to clean drinking water.


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