Politics

Trump Again Defends Puerto Rico Response as Hurricane Florence Nears

President blames ‘totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan’ for problems after Maria

Hurricane Florence rainfall predictions as the storm heads for the Carolinas and Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center. (NOAA)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Hurricane Florence could prove “bigger than anticipated” as it barrels toward the Carolinas and sharply blamed a Puerto Rican mayor for the widely panned federal response to a storm there last year.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long on Tuesday warned Florence has “an opportunity of being a very devastating storm,” adding “the power is going to be off for weeks.” He predicts the storm will be a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall this weekend. And Trump told reporters after being briefed by Long and Homeland Security officials that Florence will be “tremendously big and tremendously wet” with “tremendous amounts of water.”

On Wednesday morning, the president appeared to step up his warnings about the size and force of Florence. He tweeted this as preparations on the North and South Carolina coasts continue: “Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated. It will be arriving soon.”

[Trump Says Government ‘Totally Prepared’ for ‘Tremendously Wet’ Hurricane Florence]

And as he did Tuesday, Trump appeared to guarantee the federal response will be sufficient, adding: “FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready,” and urging people in the path to “Be safe!”

But that warning came six minutes after the president who former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon calls a “streetfighter” punched back at critics of his Tuesday contention that his government’s preparations before and response following Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico were “an incredible, unsung success.”

“Texas, we had been given A-plusses for. Florida, we’ve been given A-plusses for” in response to hurricanes there last year, he said. “I think, in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it’s harder to understand.”

Trump did not address the higher death toll and damage assessments than his administration initially issued. He also criticized power companies on the island for not being effective or of high quality. And on Wednesday morning, he added San Juan Mayor San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz to his blame game.

He again repeated his self-given grades for Florida and Texas, adding his administration “did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan.”

The president was widely criticized Tuesday for his contention that the Puerto Rico response was a success, with House Minority Whip Steny B. Hoyer calling the remarks “offensive” and demanding an apology.

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“He ought to apologize, and Congress ought to investigate what went wrong with the Trump administration’s response and identify steps to ensure it does not happen again,” Hoyer said in a statement. “With another storm now threatening our country, I pray that the president and his team are not taking the same approach they did last year in preparing to meet this challenge.”

The call for a congressional probe offers a preview of life in Washington should Hoyer’s party take control of one or both chambers in November’s midterm elections.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., told CNN “there would have been riots in the streets” had the Trump administration’s Puerto Rico response happened in the continental United States rather than the island territory.

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