Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert sent a memo around the White House urging staff to focus on the positive aspects of the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico while President Donald Trump took to Twitter to address the problem in his own way.
Bossert’s memo, leaked to Axios and published by Mike Allen, stated that search and rescue teams had combed the entire island, searching more than 2,600 structures and saving 840 individuals.
According to Bossert, aid workers have restored partial capability to 59 hospitals, but improving the distribution of essential commodities and access to power remain “major focuses right now.”
Besides the update on the material conditions on the ground in Puerto Rico, after three straight hurricanes racked the island, Bossert’s memo urged a cheery media narrative that starkly clashed with Trump’s own comments on the situation.
“I hope to turn the corner on our public communications,” Bossert wrote, acknowledging the White House’s issues in communicating its response to what many now compare to George W. Bush’s administration’s sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I recommend that today and tomorrow we use the general theme of supporting the governor and standing with the people of Puerto Rico to get them food, water, shelter, and emergency medical care,” wrote Bossert.
Bossert then laid out a plan to “pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing” the situation with temporary housing and increasing the reach of power and commodities on Monday and Tuesday, and then to “start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico.”
“Planned hits, tweets, tv bookings and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts,” wrote Bossert, who seemed to provide officials with a talking point for future discussions: “The storm caused these problems, not our response to it.”
While Bossert’s memo reflects a carefully coordinated and genial recovery effort with Puerto Rico, Trump took to Twitter to attack San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Mayor Carmen Yulîn Cruz.
Cruz had told media on Friday that if Trump does not ramp up relief efforts, Puerto Rico could see “something close to a genocide.”
Trump responded on Twitter criticising the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan” and other Puerto Ricans who “want everything to be done for them.”
Trump dismissed Cruz’s criticisms of his response by saying she had “been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.” Trump has since praised Puerto Rico’s governor on Twitter, while blaming “Fake News or politically motivated ingrates” for the negative coverage of his administration’s efforts.
While more than half a dozen US Navy ships have been sent to the island, along with more than 5,000 Marines and 10,000 other federal workers, reporters on the island say efforts have been uncoordinated and ineffective.
“It’s important to sound the alarm, to put the story out there, so that every time someone says, ‘aid is getting through,’ we can show that it may be here, but it is not getting to the most vulnerable,” a Puerto Rican woman told CNN’s Leyla Santiago.
Trump is due to arrive in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, where thousands are still cut off from communications and desperate for food, water, and other essentials.
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