The White House on Saturday said a Puerto Rican mayor dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria “might be too busy doing TV” to meet with President Trump during his visit to the island on Tuesday.
The response follows sharp criticism by Trump of the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Cruz has maintained in media appearances that her city, the capital and largest city in Puerto Rico, desperately needs more assistance than the Trump administration has provided in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Trump lashed out at Cruz on Saturday in a series of tweets.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “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.”
Asked if Trump would meet with Cruz when he visits Puerto Rico on Tuesday, a White House official said they were “not sure.”
“She has been invited to FEMA command center several times to see operations and be part of efforts but so far has refused to come, maybe too busy doing TV?” the White House official told ABC News.
Trump’s administration is defending their response to what some officials in Puerto Rico are calling an imminent humanitarian disaster. Thousands remain without electricity or drinking water on the island in Maria’s wake. The sense of urgency over the island’s plight is growing this weekend as officials appear on news media and celebrities pick up the cause.
Following Trump’s early morning series of tweets attacking Cruz for “poor leadership,” Trump came under fire from Democrats and celebrities for what one Democratic senator, Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an ‘intellectual and moral garbage truck fire’ Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster MORE (Conn.), called sitting “in his opulent golf resort attacking hurricane first responders.”
“You’re going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump. No long lines for you. Someone will say, ‘Right this way, sir.’ They’ll clear a path,” tweeted “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent.
The singer Lady Gaga brought new eyes to the feud when she accused Trump of failing to help Puerto Rico because it doesn’t have the electoral votes he needs to get re-elected.
Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino, Jr., though, continued to isolate Cruz as a lone critic by calling her “an opportunistic politician” on Saturday.
Puerto Rico does not follow the U.S. political parties but Cruz is a member of the island’s Popular Democratic Party.
Following Trump’s tweets about her, Cruz responded that her No. 1 goal is “saving lives.”
“Actually, I was asking for help. I wasn’t saying anything nasty about the president,” Cruz said on MSNBC following the tweets. “It’s not about politics, it’s not about petty comments, it’s about moving forward, putting boots on the ground and saving lives.”
Cruz has made numerous media appearances this week, criticizing the Trump administration’s response and asking for additional aid.
“I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” she said at a press conference Friday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent airplanes and ships with food, water and generators and 10,000 federal employees have been deployed to help in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands, which were also hit.
The three-star general recently put in charge of U.S. military relief operations in Puerto Rico said Friday that there are as many as 4,600 troops on the ground in Puerto Rico — including members of the National Guard and Reserves — and the Pentagon would be sending more troops and vehicles to the island, where residents could be without power for six months.
Trump also temporarily lifted the Jones Act, which requires American-made and -operated vessels to transport cargo between U.S. ports such as Puerto Rico, in order to bolster relief by ship to the island.
Trump on Friday maintained that his administration is doing an “incredible job” with relief efforts.
“We have done an incredible job, considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Trump is visiting Puerto Rico next week, and tweeted on Saturday that he also hopes to visit the Virgin Islands, which were also hit by the storm.