Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that Puerto Rico is going to have to shoulder more responsibility for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria, saying the federal government’s emergency responders can’t stay there “forever.”
His comments – in which he also blamed the beleaguered island for a financial crisis “largely of their own making” and infrastructure that was a “disaster” before the hurricane – come as Puerto Rico still reels from a lack of electricity, public health access and a rising death toll. The remarks quickly prompted cries from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that Puerto Rico still needs a lot of help, as well as the mayor of San Juan, who said they were “unbecoming” and appeared to come from a “hater in chief.”
Meanwhile, Texas and Florida – two states Trump won during last year’s presidential election – also were struck by severe hurricanes recently, but the President has made no public indication that the federal government is pulling back on its response there.
The President wrote in two separate tweets, “‘Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms > largely of their own making.’ says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of…accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend…”
White House chief of staff John Kelly said at the White House briefing Thursday that Trump’s tweet was “exactly accurate” because first responders “are not going to be there forever.”
“The minute you go anywhere as a first responder, and this would apply certainly to the military, you will try really hard to work yourself out of a job,” he said. “There will be a period in which we hope sooner rather than later, the US military and (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), generally speaking, can withdraw because then the government and people of Puerto Rico are recovering sufficiently to start the process of rebuilding.”
A FEMA official told CNN the agency has “no hard deadline” on when it plans to pull resources from the island.
“It all will be determined by the conditions on the ground,” the official said.
The official said once things are “stabilized” in Puerto Rico, FEMA will “pull back resources as appropriate,” adding that’s the “natural progression of a response to a disaster.”