WASHINGTON -- From the comfort of his New Jersey golf resort, President Donald Trump lashed out Saturday at the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the ravaged island's residents, defending his administration's hurricane response by suggesting that Puerto Ricans had not done enough to help themselves.
Trump's Twitter assault, which began early Saturday and lasted until evening, was set off by criticism from Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who on Friday had criticized the federal response since Hurricane Maria's Sept. 20 landfall.
"Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help," Trump tweeted. He added: "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job."
The president's comments were a breathtaking and racially inflected swipe at residents who have labored for more than a week to survive without electricity, running water, food or medical supplies. Media reports have shown residents in the city and villages sweltering in line for hours with gas cans, hoping for enough fuel to run generators. Nearly every hospital in Puerto Rico lost power in the hurricane, though many have crept toward a semblance of operation. Thousands of crates of supplies have arrived in Puerto Rico, but their distribution has been slowed by destroyed roads and trucks and a shortage of drivers to deliver the goods around the island.
Media reports also have shown Puerto Ricans working together, a visible contradiction of the president's suggestion that they and their leaders had avoided helping themselves. Cruz has been seen frequently on television reports, including wading through hip-deep water to help people and embracing sobbing constituents as she pleaded for more help.
"I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying," Cruz said Friday. "We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency."
Minutes after broadcasts showed Trump telling reporters at the White House on Friday that "we have done an incredible job," Cruz asserted on camera that the world could see Puerto Ricans being treated "as animals that can be disposed of."
The controversy created an awkward backdrop for Trump's plans to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, and perhaps the American Virgin Islands, also hit hard by the hurricane.
As has been common in other Trump disputes, Democrats immediately condemned the president while Republican leaders -- including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- remained silent. But some conservatives lamented the president's reflexive attacks.
"The people of Puerto Rico are hungry, thirsty, homeless and fearful," conservative writer and radio host Erick Erickson wrote in an essay. Erickson predicted, accurately, that Trump supporters would contend that Mayor Cruz deserved Trump's treatment because she criticized the president first.