IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump's confusion about Puerto Rico stymies disaster relief bill

Trump's confusion about Puerto Rico is more than a simple curiosity; it's holding up a major federal disaster-relief bill.
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,...

Traditionally, congressional work on disaster-relief legislation has been pretty straightforward: in the wake of a catastrophe, lawmakers tend to endorse federal aid to affected areas. Every year, Congress will tackle contentious issues and heavy lifts, but these bills are supposed to be easy.

At least in theory, that is.

Yesterday, the Senate took up a disaster-relief proposal written to extend federal assistance to communities affected by hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. It needed 60 votes to advance, and it received 44.

There's no great mystery as to what derailed the legislation: Democrats want increased support for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Donald Trump doesn't, and so the process has come to a halt.

For his part, the president has been eager to defend his position, publishing a series of tweets on the subject last night...

"The people of Puerto Rico are GREAT, but the politicians are incompetent or corrupt. Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can't do anything right, the place is a mess - nothing works. FEMA & the Military worked emergency miracles, but politicians like the crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan have done such a poor job of bringing the Island back to health. 91 Billion Dollars to Puerto Rico, and now the Dems want to give them more, taking dollars away from our Farmers and so many others. Disgraceful!"

... and then again this morning.

"Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money. The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA."The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump. So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!"

This is a great example of why Trump's confusion matters: he's not just peddling bogus claims on Twitter; he's also delaying a disaster-relief bill over beliefs that are demonstrably wrong.

Practically nothing from the president's tweets is accurate. The $91 billion figure, for example, is wrong. The idea that Puerto Rican officials are "taking from USA" is curious, since the people in Puerto Rico are, in fact, Americans.

The Washington Post did a nice job going line by line, pointing out all of Trump's errors of fact and judgment, and it's well worth your time. The fact that federal disaster legislation is on hold because the president is deeply confused may seem bizarre, but it's exactly what's happening.

Stepping back, however, the subtext of the latest presidential Twitter tantrum isn't exactly subtle: the mayor of San Juan once hurt Trump's feelings, and his antagonistic attitude toward the island has intensified ever since.

* Postscript: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello continues to try to explain the facts to the president, blaming White House advisers for "misleading" Trump into believing things that are obviously false. I get the sense Trump isn't listening.

* Update: On MSNBC this morning, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley referred to Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, as “that country” -- twice.