(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump on Sunday lashed out at “ingrates” criticizing the federal government’s hurricane-recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, while his homeland-security adviser issued an internal memo about how the administration should shape its messaging.
Tom Bossert said in the document that he hopes to “turn the corner on our public communications” after Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20.
“Monday and Tuesday we can pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing as we address temporary housing and sustaining the flow of commodities and basic government services, including temporary power,” Bossert said in the memo, first reported by Axios.
“Then we start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico,” Bossert continued. “Planned hits, tweets, TV bookings and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts.”
The administration’s efforts to win the public relations battle continued as residents of the U.S. commonwealth continued struggling to put their island back on its feet. Only 45 percent of customers had access to potable water, according to Bossert’s own accounting. Critics have said the administration has been slow to react and disorganized on the ground. They’ve drawn comparisons to recent hurricane responses in Texas and Florida, and suggested Trump has been less empathetic to residents of a largely Hispanic territory.
The president, who is spending the weekend at his New Jersey country club and is attending a professional golf tournament, has repeatedly used Twitter to attack San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who’s been vocal in efforts to get help for her constituents.
“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Sunday that Cruz hadn’t visited a FEMA emergency field office in San Juan. Vice President Mike Pence said she’d visited one time, but also chided Cruz in a television interview for her “rhetoric.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist, on Sunday bridled at the administration’s continued attacks on Cruz.
“Speaking from his fancy golf club, playing golf with his billionaire friends, attacking the mayor of San Juan, who is struggling to bring electricity to the island, food to the island, water to the island, gas to the island, that is just -- it is unspeakable,” Sander said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I don’t know what world Trump is living in.”
In an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Cruz said she’ll meet with Trump during his scheduled visit to the island on Tuesday “if he asks to meet with me.” She said relief efforts by FEMA continue to fall short of the needs for San Juan’s population of some 350,000.
“You know, I get four pallets of food, three pallets of water, that’s really not even going to provide for a dent,” Cruz said.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long said on “Fox News Sunday” that the recovery effort from Hurricane Maria is “the most logistically challenging event the United States has ever seen.”
The commonwealth government has compiled statistics showing the extent of the devastation and the relative state of the recovery:
- 14 percent of cellular towers working as of Sunday
- 66 percent of gasoline stations open as of Sunday
- 65 percent of supermarkets open as of Saturday
- Ports operating at 63 percent of their capacity
Long before Maria struck, the U.S. territory was in crisis. It had entered a form of bankruptcy after racking up $74 billion in debt in a Wall Street-enabled borrowing spree. Then, the storm -- the second hurricane to hit this season -- hit the island of 3.4 million people, all of them U.S. citizens.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, who has said the Trump administration has been trying hard on the recovery efforts, reflected at length Sunday about systemic inequalities that hurt the U.S. territory.
“I invite you to reflect on the reality that even after the storm hit Puerto Rico, even when it was evident that it was a disaster in the United States, only half of our U.S. citizens on the mainland knew that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens,” he said at a news conference in San Juan.
Many of those citizens continue to wait for their first contact with federal aid workers. “People have been told to register via internet for FEMA relief, when we don’t have any internet or very little internet even in the San Juan metropolitan area,” Cruz said on ABC.
Julia Nazario, mayor of Loiza in northeastern Puerto Rico, said Friday that she hopes FEMA will “see the reality” in her small town: “We’re building a heart out of guts right now.”