Trump warns battered Puerto Rico: Federal aid workers cannot stay ‘forever’ – The Washington Post

President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a “disaster before hurricanes,” Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay “forever.”

In a trio of tweets, Trump wrote” “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Three weeks since Maria made landfall, much of Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million people, remains without power. Residents struggle to find clean water, hospitals are running short on medicine and commerce is slow with many businesses closed.

Trump on Thursday sought to shame the territory for its own plight. He tweeted, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” And he quoted Sharyl Attkisson, a television journalist, as saying, “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

Trump has been roundly criticized for his leadership in coming to Puerto Rico’s aid, including by the mayor of San Juan, the island’s capital. In response, Trump has tried to portray the territory as in full recovery mode, even as it suffers from enduring health, power and water problems. The president also has voiced frustration with what he considers mismanagement by local officials in Puerto Rico, which had been struggling with a debt crisis and aging infrastructure before Maria ravaged the island.

During a visit last week, he tossed rolls of paper towels at local residents as if they were basketballs, drawing scorn from local leaders. He also complained that the recovery efforts had “thrown our budget a little out of whack,” and noted that the death toll was lower than the “real catastrophe” of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005.

Trump’s threats to limit the emergency worker footprint in Puerto Rico come as the House is set to vote Thursday on a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes provisions to avert a potential cash crisis in Puerto Rico prompted by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned congressional leaders over the weekend that the U.S. territory he leads is “on the brink of a massive liquidity crisis that will intensify in the immediate future.” The legislation set for a vote allows up to $4.9 billion in direct loans to local governments in a bid to ease Puerto Rico’s crunch.

Without congressional action, the territory may not be able to make its payroll or pay vendors by the end of the month.

Top Democrats assailed Trump for his Thursday tweets sounding off on Puerto Rico. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted, “There is still devastation, Americans are still dying. FEMA needs to stay until the job is done.”

Another New York Democrat, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, said in a statement that the president’s “most solemn duty is to protect the safety and the security of the American people. By suggesting he might abdicate this responsibility for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump has called into question his ability to lead. We will not allow the federal government to abandon Puerto Rico in its time of need.”

Jennifer Hing, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), said that those who live on the island “are American citizens and they deserve the federal assistance they need to recover and rebuild. The Chairman and the Committee fully stand by them in these efforts, and will continue to be at the ready to provide the victims of these devastating hurricanes with the necessary federal resources both now and in the future.”

Frelinghuysen is scheduled to be part of a delegation led by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that will visit Puerto Rico on Friday to see the hurricane’s devastation first hand.

During a National Hispanic Heritage Month reception on Oct. 11, Vice President Pence said the Trump administration will support hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico until the island “is restored bigger and better than ever before.” (The Washington Post)

“I say to all of you gathered here today to the people of Puerto Rico:  We are with you, we stand with you, and we will be with you every single day until Puerto Rico is restored bigger and better than ever before,” he said.

Trump himself made a similar promise, saying in a Sept. 29 speech, “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.” He added, “These are great people. We want them to be safe and sound and secure. And we will be there every day until that happens.”

On Sept. 29, President Trump said that “the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort … will be funded and organized and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.” (The Washington Post)

Source: Trump warns battered Puerto Rico: Federal aid workers cannot stay ‘forever’ – The Washington Post

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