- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2018

President Trump said Monday that statehood for Puerto Rico is an “absolute no” as long as critics, such as the mayor of San Juan, are in office.

“With the mayor of San Juan as incompetent as she is and as bad as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Mr. Trump said in a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera.

He blasted Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of the capital city, as a “horror show” who was “so disrespectful” to military and Federal Emergency Management Agency responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which decimated the island a year ago. He accused her and other leaders on the island territory of botching FEMA deliveries.

CBS News reported this month that millions of water bottles were left on a tarmac on the island. It was FEMA’s responsibility to distribute them, according to the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Mr. Trump also faulted the island’s beleaguered electrical grid for problems recovering from the storm.

Ms. Cruz dismissed the president’s comments to The Associated Press, saying they were an effort to avoid responsibility for his administration’s “negligence” in its response to the Category 5 hurricane. “He looks for any excuse to divert attention,” she said.

She called it a “great honor” to be singled out by the president. “It highlights that he knows that while he was playing golf at Mar-a-Lago, I was up to my waist in water and human waste” during the storm.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also pushed back against Mr. Trump’s comments Monday and the “unequal and colonial relationship” between the island and the mainland.

“The president said he is not in favor of statehood for the people of Puerto Rico based on a personal feud with a local mayor,” Mr. Rossello said in a statement. “This is an insensitive, disrespectful comment to over 3 million Americans who live in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.”

Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez, the island’s non-voting representative in Congress, also countered the president’s statements on Twitter while criticizing Ms. Cruz.

Ms. Gonzalez in June introduced legislation to grant statehood for Puerto Rico.

“Equality 4 Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be held up by one bad mayor who’s leaving office in 2020 & do not represent the people who voted twice for statehood,” she tweeted.

Mr. Trump’s comments come two weeks after he rejected a study that found nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, saying the death toll was politically motivated.

The government of Puerto Rico raised the official count from 64 to 2,947 after the independent study by George Washington University was published.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

The president stuck by that sentiment in Monday’s interview, saying the dramatic increase of deaths is “not explainable.”

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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