Since Hurricane Maria struck, the Trump administration has worked mightily to avoid comparisons with the faulty federal response in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas -- and hobbled George W. Bush for the rest of his presidency. That event, too, featured the contrast between powerful video of suffering Americans and the self-congratulatory words of Bush complimenting his disaster response chief for a job well done. Trump, by his fight with suffering Puerto Ricans, may have hastened the comparison.
Derrick Johnson, interim president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said Trump's rhetoric showed "a president who does not appreciate the lives of people of color."
"This is his Katrina moment," Johnson said. "He is lacking and has been lacking as a moral leader."
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said Trump displayed "a profound incapacity for empathy."
"Millions of Americans are faced with a humanitarian crisis and he's at his clubhouse using Twitter to attack local leadership on the island? Really? This is going to cause even more suffering," Schmidt said. "What the American people are seeing is staggering incompetence."
In some of his more than 20 tweets on Saturday, the president sought to suggest that any criticism of the federal response was a criticism of the first responders -- much as he cast NFL players' protests as directed against service members and veterans, not police violence. He also alleged that reporters who have been in Puerto Rico documenting the hurricane's aftermath had diminished the role of U.S. rescuers.
"Because of #FakeNews my people are not getting the credit they deserve for doing a great job. As seen here, they are ALL doing a GREAT JOB!" he said in one tweet. It included a nearly 10-minute video of U.S. forces working on behalf of Puerto Ricans, and laudatory comments from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
"We've been working together; we've been getting results," said Rossello, who is affiliated with Democrats. "The president and the administration have done everything that they can, that we've asked them to do."
(Times staff writers Decker reported from Washington and Lee from Los Angeles.)
(Jackie Calmes of the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report from Washington.)
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