WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would visit storm-stricken Puerto Rico in one week and touted his administration’s emergency relief efforts amid calls for quicker and more robust aid.
“We are unloading on an hourly basis massive loads of water and food and supplies for Puerto Rico,” he said at a Rose Garden news conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “And this isn’t like Florida where we can go right up the spine, or like Texas where we go right down the middle and we distribute. This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff.”
He repeatedly referenced compliments from Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on the federal response to Hurricane Maria.
Trump will tour Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — also in the storm’s path — next Tuesday.
“The governor has been so incredible in his statements about the job we’re doing,” Trump said. “We’re doing a great job.”
Trump spoke amid criticism that he has trained more attention in recent days on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem than on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Caribbean amid food and water shortages.
“I wasn’t preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place,” Trump said. “Because to me, that was a very important moment. I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem.”
Democrats, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said the federal government must act more quickly to aid Puerto Ricans.
The president between Saturday morning and Tuesday afternoon had posted or shared 23 tweets about the NFL controversy.
In that same period, he posted five times about Puerto Rico, with the first tweet Sunday referencing the island’s debt crisis.
Maria made landfall there last Wednesday.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Tuesday for a federal aid package by the end of the week.
“With all due respect, President Trump, the relief efforts are not doing well, they’re not close to good enough,” he said, adding of Puerto Rico’s massive financial problems, “Now is not the time, Mr. President. Puerto Rico needs help from aid workers, not debt collectors from Wall Street.”
Trump on Tuesday also reiterated that he believes the NFL should set a rule forbidding players to decline to stand during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Last Friday, he condemned professional athletes who take a knee and called for them to be fired.
NFL owners, coaches and players at Sunday and Monday games responded with demonstrations of solidarity with their colleagues. Some stood and linked arms during the anthem, some knelt, some sat out the ceremony in the locker room. The predominantly black group of players who kneel say they are protesting mistreatment of minorities and police brutality.
Trump commended the approach of the Dallas Cowboys while also applauding fans who booed it. “While Dallas dropped to its knees as a team, they all stood up for our National Anthem,” he tweeted. “Big progress being made — we all love our country!”