Trump administration doubles down on opposition to Puerto Rico funding
The White House doubled down Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s comments opposing disaster funding for Puerto Rico, drawing outrage from Democratic members of Congress and raising questions about the administration’s rationale.
On Tuesday, Trump told Republican legislators at a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting that Puerto Rico had gotten too much money to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. The amount “is way out of proportion to what Texas and Florida and others have gotten,” Trump said, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who was in the room.
On Wednesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told NBC News that while Puerto Rico is on track to receive tens of billions of dollars in unprecedented aid, “the Trump administration will not put taxpayers on the hook to correct a decades-old spending crisis that has left the island with deep-rooted economic problems.”
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., who is Puerto Rican, blasted the administration’s comments in a statement.
“The President’s remarks as reported in the media have at long last laid bare the central reason for his Administration’s callous response to Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico,” said Velázquez, “namely that he does not value the lives of millions of American citizens who reside there.”
“For the President to vocally oppose and target aid to the most vulnerable in Puerto Rico is shameful, heartless and inexcusable,” the congresswoman added.
In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico; its aftermath led to the deaths of at least 2,975 people and made it the deadliest U.S. natural disaster in a century. Trump has not yet publicly acknowledged or mourned the victims of the catastrophe following the revised figures.
On Wednesday, a White House official told NBC News on background some of the reasons why the administration was opposed to more spending.
But in doing so, the administration got some facts wrong.
The official said that the Puerto Rican government had not yet submitted a plan to fix the island’s power grid. However, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on Tuesday that he’s ready to sign into law a bill approved by the Puerto Rican legislature that would determine how the island plans to privatize its public power authority, known as PREPA, and expand renewable energy.
The bill has been in the works for over a year, when the island’s government first announced its plans to privatize at least part of its power authority.
An official also said that Puerto Rican officials have mismanaged disaster funds that have been received.
The claim is not new; since last year, Trump has repeatedly asked Congress to stop providing relief and reconstruction money to Puerto Rico.