WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday said “things are going well” and “we’ve made tremendous strides” in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, where food, water and electricity are still in short supply.
The president sought to address the severe problems on an island that he said was “wiped out” by hurricanes, and now faces possible flooding from more rainstorms, in a speech to manufacturers and later as he took questions from reporters.
Trump spoke out about Puerto Rico after his acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on Friday angered many on the island by saying Thursday that the recovery effort was “a good news story.”
San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz angrily responded on CNN Friday. “When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story,” she said. “I’m sorry, that really upsets me.”
Trump began his speech to the National Manufacturers Association Friday morning by offering prayers for Puerto Rico and promising “we will not rest” until its people are safe.
“It’s a tough situation,” he said later at the White House as he prepared to go to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort for the weekend.
“The loss of life, it’s always tragic but it’s been incredible, the results we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that’s been, relatively speaking,” Trump said.
Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island and more than 30 across the Caribbean, Reuters reported.
Trump defended his administration’s efforts.
“We have done an incredible job given what we have to work with,” Trump told reporters.
At his speech, Trump said his administration had sent 10,000 personnel to the island home of 3.4 million U.S. citizens that was completely “wiped out,” destroying an obsolete electrical grid and manufacturing plants that will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
“All appropriate departments of our government from Homeland Security to Defense are engaged fully in the disaster and response and recovery effort, probably has never been seen for something like this,” Trump said.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — which will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of debt already on the island,” he said.
The president will visit Puerto Rico Tuesday. Congress has not yet passed any emergency disaster aid package for the island.
In his speech to a receptive audience of business people and workers, Trump promoted his plan to bring back jobs and manufacturing with a “giant, beautiful, massive — the biggest ever in our country — tax cut.”
He urged the audience to join him in urging lawmakers to pass his plan for nearly $6 trillion in federal tax cuts that he outlined in Indiana on Wednesday.
As he spoke, Senate Republicans unveiled a budget plan to overhaul the tax system and to allow them to pass it with a simple majority of 51 votes by invoking a budget reconciliation rule that allows them to bypass the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster.
Trump said the Washington policy on manufacturing for the past three decades has been surrender, but that his tax plan will bring back the phrase “made in America.”
His plan would lower the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, set a 25 percent tax rate for small businesses, and collapse seven brackets to three set at 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent.
“We will cut taxes on American businesses to restore our competitive edge and create more jobs and higher wages for the American worker,” Trump said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded, “Cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and giant corporations leads to bigger CEO bonuses, more stock buybacks and dividends for shareholders — not jobs and higher wages.”