Just days after Hurricane Harvey struck Texas on Aug. 25, the White House announced a massive infusion of federal dollars to help quicken the recovery of Houston and other areas. Indeed, there were reports that the Trump administration was thinking in terms of a $6 billion initial commitment in aid for the rest of the year.
When all is said and done, the amount of assistance required by Texas could top $100 billion.
President Donald J. Trump visited Texas twice to survey the damage and console Texans who lost family, friends and their homes in the devastating hurricane.
We point to the federal government’s response to Harvey because of what is happening in the American territory of Puerto Rico, which was shattered two weeks ago after Hurricane Maria roared through the island.
While 95 percent of the electricity customers, including hospitals, remain without power and about half the population of 3.4 million do not have water for drinking and washing, President Trump seemed intent on telling Puerto Ricans that they aren’t as badly off as other regions of the U.S. affected by natural disasters.
“Every death is a horror,” Trump said, “but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous – hundreds and hundreds of people that died – and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering ... no one has ever seen anything like this.”
Here’s how CNN portrayed the president’s line of thinking.
“What is your death count?” Trump asked, as he turned to Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossell ≥. “17?”
“16,” Rossell ≥ answered.
“16 people certified,” Trump said. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
Later in the evening, the governor revised the death toll to 34.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 1,833 people died in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that struck Louisiana.
In response to the president’s comments, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told CNN that many people in more remote areas are still in dire straits and in need of food and water. “Let’s stop talking about the death count until this is over.”
However, Trump, who unleashed a series of tweets blasting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz for criticizing the federal government’s slow response to the disaster on the island, could not contain himself even while pledging an all-out effort to help the island.
“Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
Why would Trump go out of his way to talk about money while the people of Puerto Rico are still shell-shocked over the death and destruction on the island?
It is noteworthy that the president did not raise similar concerns about the cost to the federal treasury of aid to Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season.
Parts of the states and the Virgin Island were inundated by floodwaters and hit by high winds.
Indeed, the president’s public demeanor while visiting those areas was praised by residents and government officials.
By contrast, Trump has been less sympathetic toward Puerto Rico. Over the weekend, he unleashed a barrage of tweets aimed at the island and its political leadership.
“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he said, scoffing at “politically motivated ingrates” who had criticized the work of the federal government.
Before and during his visit Tuesday to Puerto Rico, Trump insisted the federal government had done “a great job” providing aid to the people and clearing roads so trucks can deliver food, water and other supplies to remote areas.
However, the reality on the ground tells a different story.
There will be time for the administration to take credit for Puerto Rico’s return to normalcy. But for now, more action and less talk is advised.