What matters is not what President Trump tweets about Puerto Rico, but what his administration does for Puerto Rico.
Once again, Trump on Monday demonstrated a tin ear when it comes to talking presidential in response to a humanitarian disaster.
Tweeting about Puerto Rico, which was devastated last week by Hurricane Maria after an earlier hit by Hurricane Irma, the president promised his administration would provide substantial emergency assistance. “Top priorities,” he said would be “food, water and medical.”
So far, so good.
But Trump couldn’t resist taking a jab at Puerto Rico, as well, noting that the island owes “billions of dollars to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
Not so good.
When your brother’s house is on fire, you help put the fire out. You do not use to the occasion to remind him that he owes you money.
At a time when more than 3.3 million people in Puerto Rico — American citizens all — are desperate for the basics of food, water, fuel and electricity, all that matters is that our nation comes to the rescue quickly and fully. The same unstinting assistance should be given as well to the U.S. Virgin Islands, another American territory devastated by hurricanes.
Critics are accusing the Trump administration of responding slowly to the unfolding crisis in Puerto Rico, complaining that it did not take FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — almost a week to arrive in Texas and Florida after punishing hurricanes there. Inexplicably, the Trump administration also has declined to waive restrictions on foreign ships’ transporting cargo to Puerto Rico, though it did waive such restrictions for Texas and Florida.
But FEMA officials say they are now coordinating relief efforts by more than 10,000 federal workers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and cargo flights and barges full of supplies are on their way. Eleven ships carrying 1.6 million gallons of water and 23,000 cots, as well as diesel fuel and generators, have arrived, and dozens more shipments are expected.
Will it be enough? We don’t know. How do you measure “enough” when responding to a disaster? We’re inclined to agree with Hillary Clinton, though, that Trump should tap the Navy to assist in the effort, and Congress should be prepared to spend billions of dollars on the long-term recovery costs.
Trump was not inaccurate when he tweeted that Puerto Rico faced crippling financial problems long before Irma and Maria. But his implication that the burden for resolving the crisis is largely on Puerto Rico — that the money is “owed” to “Wall Street and the banks” — is simplistic. Puerto Rico’s financial problems are a result of its leaders’ bad decisions, the financial and political strictures that come with being a commonwealth, and the predatory practices of some Wall Street financiers.
But all that is a matter for another day. Our job right now is to come to the aid of fellow citizens in dire need.
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