Top administration officials on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s criticism of what he calls San Juan, Puerto Rico mayor’s “poor leadership.”
During a series of interviews on the Sunday political talk shows, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney attempted to qualify Trump’s attacks on Saturday of Carmen Yulin Cruz.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, which left millions of residents without water and electricity, she has begged the administration for help, and received Trump’s ire in several tweets over the weekend.
On “Meet The Press,” Mnuchin dodged host Chuck Todd’s repeated question about whether Trump regretted criticising the mayor, and why Trump said Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
“Why did he attack the mayor?” Todd asked. “She’s in a situation, a pretty desperate situation. He seemed to lack a little bit of empathy for the situation at the time.”
“When the president gets attacked, he attacks back,” Mnuchin said. “And I think the mayor’s comments were unfair, given what the federal government has done.”
In an interview on CNN, Mulvaney also refused to directly answer host Jake Tapper’s question about who Trump was referring to when he said “they” wanted everything done for them.
“I think what the president is trying to get at is folks think this is going to be easy,” Mulvaney said. “They saw what happened in Texas, they saw what happened in Florida, and they thought ‘Oh, this is easy to do,’ and it’s not.”
But the director also criticised the San Juan mayor, saying it was “unfortunate” Cruz wanted to “go against the grain.”
“My understanding is that as of yesterday, she had not even been to the FEMA operation center in her own city,” Mulvaney said.
Cruz has emerged as one of the loudest local voices calling for help in the wake of the storm, saying the administration risked “genocide” if it did not deliver vital resources to the island, which is still without power, food, or water in many areas.
She dismissed Trump’s attacks in a series of interviews over the weekend, saying she believes Trump is “looking for an excuse for things that are not going well.”
“Maybe he’s used to women who have to be told what to do,” Cruz told CNN on Saturday. “That’s not how we are in San Juan.”
She told ABC on Sunday, “All I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help.”
The White House has increasingly attempted to spin its response to Maria — which many have criticised as slow to recognise the extent of devastation — as a success.
Axios reported on Sunday that White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert was hoping to reshape the narrative about the administration’s response, sending talking points to staff about the themes they should highlight in interviews and tweets.
“I hope to turn the corner on our public communications,” Bossert wrote in the memo. “I recommend that 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.”
“The storm caused these problems, not our response to it,” he added. “We have pushed about as much stuff and people through a tiny hole in as short a timeframe as possible.”
Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Cruz said she would meet with him if he asks her for a meeting.
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