by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 12, 2017
Donald Trump warned Thursday that his willingness to help hurricane-battered Puerto Rico was not unlimited, prompting a furious backlash, with the mayor of San Juan branding the president a "Hater in Chief."
Puerto Rico is struggling to recover after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island, leaving 44 people dead and cutting power and running water to much of its population, and its governor this week appealed to Trump for billions in additional federal aid.
"We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!," Trump tweeted, in one of a series of morning posts expressing frustration with the situation in the US territory of 3.4 million people.
Trump has pushed back hard at criticism of his administration's initial response to the disaster, accusing the media of exaggerating the devastation and minimizing relief efforts led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with support from the Defense Department.
Earlier Thursday, the president quoted a journalist with the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group as suggesting the island shared in the responsibility for the plight of its citizens.
"'Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making,' says Sharyl Attkisson," Trump posted. "A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend," he added.
- House approves aid package -
As Trump fired his latest rhetorical broadside over Puerto Rico, the House of Representatives approved a $36.5 billion package for disaster-hit areas including the US territory.
The measure outlining "supplemental" disaster spending passed 353 to 69, with all votes in opposition coming from Trump's Republican Party. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as the island was already struggling with a severe financial crisis, which forced the government to file for bankruptcy in May.
Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the island's capital San Juan who has publicly feuded with Trump in recent weeks, pushed back hard at the president's latest remarks, charging that he was incapable of "fulfilling the moral imperative to help" Puerto Ricans.
"@POTUS your comments about Puerto Rico are unbecoming of a Commander in Chief they seem more to come from a 'Hater in Chief'," she tweeted.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined the criticism, tweeting: "It's truly sad to see @POTUS dismiss the suffering of Americans in #PuertoRico & #USVI. We must give more help, not less!"
- Aid still flowing in -
Last week, after visiting the island to view relief efforts, Trump had asked Congress to approve an emergency aid package of $29 billion for Puerto Rico.
With over 5,700 people still in shelters and much of the territory still without electricity and running water, Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello this week asked Congress for more help.
Rossello said he has asked Trump for an additional $4.9 billion under the Community Disaster Loan program.
The governor's office did not respond to queries about the total amount of aid requested, which is now equivalent to around half of Puerto Rico's debt of some $73 billion.
Trump's warning prompted Rosello to tweet back: "The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation."
Captain Scott Miller, a spokesman for the US military's Northern Command, which is overseeing Puerto Rico relief operations, said there had been no instructions to dial back aid.
"Our focus has continued to be in supporting FEMA and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in deployment of logistical support forces, commodities and medical capabilities, and we certainly still have air missions that are moving food and water and other vital capabilities into Puerto Rico," Miller told AFP.
US House approves $36 bn for disasters including Puerto Rico
The measure outlining "supplemental" disaster spending passed 353 to 69, with all votes in opposition coming from President Donald Trump's Republican Party.
The bill now heads to the Senate, which could take up the emergency aid as early as next week.
The package includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, $16 billion to boost the national flood insurance program and $576 million for wildfire response efforts.
An additional $1.27 billion is set aside for food assistance for Puerto Rico.
An immediate concern will be increasing aid to the US territory, still reeling three weeks after Hurricane Maria battered the island, leaving at least 44 people dead and cutting power and running water to much of its population.
"We need to stand with the people of Puerto Rico as they work to rebuild their communities," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is scheduled to visit Friday and see the damage first-hand.
"People are really hurting in these disaster areas, whether it's victims of the wildfires in California that we're seeing on the news today, or people rebuilding from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate."
The aid package comes on top of $15 billion approved last month after hurricanes slammed Texas and Florida. Tens of billions of dollars more is likely to be requested and appropriated.
The flow of emergency money has concerned some conservatives, who say Washington should do a better job of budgeting for catastrophes -- by using spending cuts to pay for the disaster funding.
"Governing by crisis is irresponsible, especially considering the national debt is already at $20 trillion," Mark Walker, who chairs the House's conservative Republican Study Committee, wrote in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
"Perhaps most important, Congress should pay for these emergency packages by cutting spending in other areas that are less of a priority."
House passage of the aid package came hours after Trump tweeted, "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"
The post drew rebukes from Democrats angry that the president would threaten to withdraw federal support for a US territory of 3.4 million people.
San Juan (AFP) Oct 6, 2017
Bees fly around, disoriented, searching for flowers to pollinate. The trees have no leaves and once-lush mountains are a mass of dry branches. Hurricane Maria not only destroyed Puerto Rico's infrastructure, it also wreaked havoc on the environment, disrupting the island's entire ecosystem. And experts say the road to recovery could be long. "There is a lot of death, but eventually t ... read more
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