In his first visit to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria made landfall nearly two weeks ago, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to heap effusive praise on his administration’s relief efforts, suggesting residents should be “proud” because the current confirmed death toll is far lower than in a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina.
“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering—nobody has ever seen anything like this,” he said from inside the airport hangar of Muñiz Air National Guard Base.
“And what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?” Trump then asked an official. “Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands.”
The remarks came during an appearance with various administrators from FEMA, the Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican government. At numerous turns, Trump asked officials to come forward with positive things to say about his administration’s response.
“Jennifer, do you think you could say a little bit?” he said, specifically referring to the favorable aspects.
Trump then quickly followed up by insisting that the exercise had nothing to do with him. “It’s not about me,” he said.
The president has spent the past few days attacking people who have been critical of his administration’s response, claiming that such “political ingrates” and the media were fabricating reports of slow aid. He specifically lashed out at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, after she made an emotional plea calling on Washington to do more to save lives amid the devastation.
Cruz was present at Trump’s hangar appearance on Tuesday. According to pool reports, she did not comply with Trump’s repeated insistence that the officials in the room applaud his talking points. When she told him, “It’s not about politics,” he turned away from her.