WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday fired back at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, accusing her of “poor leadership” after she criticized his administration’s response to Puerto Rico’s hurricane devastation.
In a string of tweets from his New Jersey golf resort, Trump accused her of partisanship, asserted she had failed to get city workers to help and complained that “they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
On Friday night, Cruz had begged for help, directly asking Trump to take charge.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” Cruz said at a news conference. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted, “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
He followed that with a string of posts: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They . . . want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
Cruz tweeted back: “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our ‘true colors’. We cannot be distracted by anything else.”
Trump and Cruz exchanged those testy comments as Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million American citizens struggled to recover from two hurricanes that leveled buildings, destroyed the electrical grid and left severe shortages of food, water and fuel.
At the start of a speech Friday, Trump promised he would not rest until everyone on the island was safe, and said he had sent 10,000 federal personnel to help with security and transportation, but warned hard decisions and hard work lie ahead for an island deep in debt.
But Trump drew criticism from commentators for lashing out at critics and praising the work he has done, a break from presidents in the past who absorbed complaints from victims and offered consolation and promises of help.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, called the administration’s disaster response “woefully inadequate” and said Trump’s tweets “attacking” Cruz and the people of Puerto Rico are “abhorrent, baseless and are beneath the dignity of the office of the presidency.”
After phone calls with officials of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Saturday afternoon, Trump tweeted praise for Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, who have sidestepped the back-and-forth between Cruz and Trump.
“#FakeNews critics are working overtime, but we’re getting great marks from the people that truly matter! #PRStrong.” Trump tweeted.
He also posted, “Just spoke to Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands who stated that #FEMA and Military are doing a GREAT job! Thank you Governor!”
Then he circled back to Cruz.
“Results of recovery efforts will speak much louder than complaints by San Juan Mayor. Doing everything we can to help great people of PR!” Trump posted.
In an MSNBC interview Saturday, Cruz downplayed the feud.
“I am not going to be distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues,” she said. “This is one goal: to save lives.”
But Cruz defended San Juan’s 6,300 municipal workers. “About one third of them lost their homes and everything,” she said, but the rest of them have been working “nonstop” since Aug. 30 when Hurricane Irma hit and through Hurricane Maria.
Despite the friction, Cruz said she would be willing to meet with Trump and his wife, Melania, when they visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, though she urged him to go to towns “and hear from the people . . . and see their passion for life, see what we are doing to get back on track.”