WASHINGTON--President Donald Trump on Friday continued to praise his administration for doing "an incredible job" responding to Puerto Rico's devastation, though millions remain without power and clean water nine days after Hurricane Maria.
"We have done an incredible job considering there is absolutely nothing to work with," Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
Only moments after Trump's self-congratulatory remarks were broadcast, however, the mayor of San Juan was televised with a damning indictment of the U.S. government's treatment of the 3.5 million Americans on the island.
"I am begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying," Carmen Yulin Cruz said into the cameras.
She added, "We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency,"
Although Trump earlier this week cited Cruz in a tweet, thanking her for "your kind words" about the federal response, in fact Cruz has been critical almost daily, saying officials are moving too slowly.
The world was witnessing that Puerto Ricans are treated not as "second-class citizens," Cruz said, "but as animals that can be disposed of."
The contrast between Trump's optimistic take and her cries for help, plus heart-rending coverage from Puerto Rico generally, contributed to a spreading perception of a president out of touch.
White House officials have pushed back hard against allegations the administration's Puerto Rico response hasn't measured up to that in Texas and Florida after earlier hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Trump pushed back as well. In his remarks as he departed for New Jersey, the president cited as he has before the unique difficulties in Puerto Rico given both the poor condition of its infrastructure before the storm and the intensity of Maria.
"When you look at Texas and when you look at Florida, it's a whole different level," Trump said. "Nobody has ever seen when you have a Category 5 wipe out an island like this."
The island's power generation plant has been "wiped out," the president said, adding, "It's not like, Let's go back and fix it. That's what I do--I'm a construction guy. You don't go back and fix it, there is nothing. The power grid is gone."
He also reiterated his concern about potential costs, saying that the amount of money needed just to replace the power grid "is really tremendous." Trump said there would have to be talks between Washington and indebted Puerto Rico about how to pay the expenses--a suggestion he did not make about Texas and Florida.
"In the meantime," Trump said, "we've saved a lot of lives. We've done a really good job."
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