Administration officials said Sunday that the news media are misrepresenting federal disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, defending President Trump’s response to the devastating storm damage left in Hurricane Maria’s wake.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said people shouldn’t judge recovery efforts by tweets and criticism. He accused major news networks of bias against Mr. Trump by choosing what to show viewers.
“What you have not shown, however, is the federal effort of what we’ve got in place down there. In fact, the governor has been very complimentary of the administration,” he told CNN.
Mr. Mulvaney gave his defense after the president tweeted about “fake news” reports on the damage in Puerto Rico over the weekend.
“The Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico doing their best to take the spirit away from our soldiers and first R’s. Shame!” the president wrote on Twitter, referring to first responders.
“Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to ‘get Trump.’ Not fair to FR or effort!” he said.
The president, in an appearance at Sunday’s Presidents Cup awards ceremony in New Jersey for the victorious U.S. team, dedicated the win to hurricane victims across the country.
“On behalf of all of the people of Texas, and all of the people — if you look today and see what is happening, how horrible it is but we have it under really great control — Puerto Rico and the people of Florida who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes, I want to just remember them,” Mr. Trump said.
Some news outlets have criticized the Trump administration’s response since Maria wiped out the island’s electric power, communications and transportation systems. They accused the president of not showing empathy and not doing enough to rush aid to victims.
Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello has defended the White House efforts, but others, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, have demanded more.
Mr. Trump fired back at the mayor over the weekend.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he tweeted.
“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. 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,” he said.
On Sunday, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich told CNN that Mr. Trump’s criticism of the mayor during a time of crisis was inappropriate.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, suggested that hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S., are being treated differently because of race.
“Given the president’s history on race, given the fact that he — a few months ago — said there were good people on both sides when neo-Nazis were marching in Charlottesville, yeah, I think we have a right to be suspect that he is treating the people in Puerto Rico in a different way than he has treated the people of Texas or Florida,” Mr. Sanders said during an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Mr. Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday to survey the damage and relief efforts. He will be accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, as well as Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s delegate to Congress.
The mayor of San Juan told ABC’s “This Week” that she is willing to meet with the president.
“Let us not talk about the debt, let us not talk the cost of reconstruction,” she said, urging the conversation to be about saving lives.
Ms. Cruz also said FEMA is telling people to register for relief online, but they do not have access to the internet.
“They just don’t have the resources,” she said.
But Brock Long, FEMA’s administrator, defended their efforts, saying his team has registered nearly 3 million people for relief in 42 days since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August.
He said Sunday that there is not enough time to even address all of the misinformation about the relief effort.
“The bottom line is you can only shove so much into an island pre-storm because if you push in too much stuff, the storm may damage it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Puerto Rico was hit last month first by Hurricane Irma, then Hurricane Maria, which wiped out power for roughly 3.5 million people.
Mr. Long said it could be months before power is restored on parts of the island.