“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done,” Trump told reporters at the time, pointing to praise that didn’t exist. In fact, the president tried to shift the blame for the response to the catastrophe, insisting that Puerto Ricans “have to give us more help.”
The issue came up again yesterday at a White House event. From the official transcript:
Q: Mr. President, on Puerto Rico, do you still believe that the federal government’s response to the hurricanes last year –
TRUMP: Yeah, I think Puerto Rico – I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico.
He added that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority was “dead,” “shut,” and “closed up” before Hurricane Maria struck the island. That’s plainly false and a strange thing to lie about.
But it was the “fantastic job” rhetoric that rankled. The day before Trump patted himself on the back, Puerto Rico increased its estimated death toll from the disaster to 2,975.
And as a rule, when nearly 3,000 Americans die on a president’s watch, he probably shouldn’t be too eager to boast about the “fantastic job” he did.
Indeed, Trump’s rhetoric appeared to be at odds with his own administration’s assessments. BuzzFeed reported last month:
An internal assessment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has found that the agency was woefully unprepared to deal with a set of storms of the size and strength of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the last of which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.
FEMA’s own findings confirm what has been reported for nearly a year: that the government’s handling of the catastrophe in Puerto Rico was dramatically inadequate. The report also cuts against President Donald Trump’s glowing comments about how his administration handled the recovery — at one point he downplayed the severity of the storm’s aftermath.
Hurricane Maria created a test for the Trump administration, and by every fair metric, it failed. The president may now want to pretend the crisis was a triumph, but there’s no reason the rest of us should play along.