Trump: Puerto Rico disaster response was 'an incredible unsung success'

Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan
U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico,...

With Hurricane Florence approaching the Carolinas and Virginia, Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office this afternoon about the threat. In theory, this should've been an incredibly easy task: the president alerts the public to a looming natural disaster, emphasizes the seriousness of the situation, and urges the public to follow the instructions of emergency-response officials.

But Trump isn't a normal president. He began his comments assuring the public that his administration is "as ready as anyone's ever been" -- even now, bragging is apparently important -- before saying that the hurricane is "tremendously big and tremendously wet."

Eventually, the president opened it up to questions, and a reporter asked about the lessons the administration has learned since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. It was at this point that Trump said ... pretty much what you'd expect him to say.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful....I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about. [...]"The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. Texas, we had been given A+'s for. Florida, we've been given A+'s for. I think in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it's harder to understand. It was very hard. very hard thing to do, because of the fact they had no electric before the storms hit -- it was dead, as you probably know. So we've gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we've done in Puerto Rico."

His answer, in total, lasted nearly a full two minutes -- during which time Trump suggested he's learned absolutely no lessons whatsoever from last year's devastation in Puerto Rico because he thinks the federal response was an "incredible" success.

It's worth emphasizing that the president has now claimed several times that Puerto Rico's electrical system was "dead" before the island was hit. That's not true.

But even putting that aside, Puerto Rico recently increased its death toll from Hurricane Maria 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 describe the disaster as "an incredible unsung success."

What's more, as we recently discussed, 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 anyone should play along.