WASHINGTON ― On Saturday, President Donald Trump turned disaster relief in Puerto Rico into a personal beef with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. The mayor had characterized the federal relief effort following Hurricane Maria as too little and too uncoordinated.
Trump responded on Twitter, questioning Cruz’s motives, writing that she “has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.” And of the Puerto Rican residents fighting for their lives, wading in sewage water and standing in day-long lines for water and gas, Trump tweeted: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Cruz, who has personally assisted rescue missions, had responded on Saturday that the focus should be on saving lives. The San Juan mayor reiterated her message on Sunday on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
“There’s only one goal and it’s saving lives,” she said. “So, any ― any dialogue that goes on just has to be able to produce results. And all I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help. It has to happen in a sustained manner, it has to happen quickly. And mayors all over Puerto Rico are getting to the supply areas and been told, look, call us a few days later.”
Cruz noted that community kitchens are being set up and residents have been out cleaning the streets. She added that she had been in contact with relief officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “I have been quite complimentary of the people from HHS and FEMA,” she said. “Their heart is in the right place, but we have to cut the red tape. That’s the one message. And number two, let us not talk about the debt, let us not talk about the cost of reconstruction, let us talk about saving lives right now, putting back the power grid as soon as we can, because that has an immediate effect on our ability to recover financially.”
Across Puerto Rico, a fraction of the hospitals are functioning. Most residents are still without electricity. FEMA administrator Brock Long admitted later on the program that “we got a long way to go.” But he suggested Cruz needed to communicate more with his agency, and he appeared to question Puerto Rican officials’ relief efforts ― but also noted the hardships they’ve faced.
“We’re also having to do a majority of the work because of diminished capacity at the local level,” Long said. “They got a hard hit.... Two major hurricanes in 10 weeks.
“Oh, I believe the Puerto Ricans are pulling their weight. I mean, I think they’re doing what they can,” Long added. “The bottom line is ... that a local mayor’s job is to push commander’s intent down to his or her troops. And in many cases, those ― that commander’s intent from a mayor down to their troops has to be aligned with what the governor’s priorities are as well as FEMA.”
Long was rougher on Cruz when he appeared earlier on “Fox News Sunday.” “If the mayors decide not to be part of [joint coordination], then the response is fragmented,” he said. “We can choose to look at what [Cruz] spouts off or what others spout off or we can choose to look at what’s being done.”