President Donald Trump is facing mounting criticism for tweeting over the weekend about the NFL protests and other issues while remaining silent about the plight of millions of people in Puerto Rico who were affected by Hurricane Maria.
Mr. Trump mentioned Puerto Rico in a speech at a political rally Friday in Alabama, one day after the White House issued a disaster declaration. Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, which struck the island last week and caused widespread flooding, ruined crops, knocked out power and led to at least 13 deaths.
The hurricane set the island back “nearly 20 to 30 years,” a top Puerto Rico official said Monday.
But despite the growing humanitarian crisis on the island, where food and water are running low in places and many bridges and roads are destroyed, Trump didn’t comment on Puerto Rico over the weekend. Roughly 3.5 million U.S. citizens live in Puerto Rico.
Instead Trump criticized NFL players who defied his demand that they remain standing during the national anthem.
Hundreds of players and league officials knelt or locked arms during the anthem at games over the weekend, in a protest over police brutality and discrimination.
The president also used Twitter to attack the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for opposing the Senate Republicans’ latest health care proposal.
On Monday Trump doubled down on his criticism of NFL players who participated in the protest, even as criticism grew that his administration wasn’t doing enough to aid Puerto Rico.
“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told the Washington Post late Sunday.
Rosselló called for more federal resources from the Department of Defense to assist local law enforcement agencies in the recovery effort. Others also called on the Trump administration to step up its efforts — including Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the presidential election.
“President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens,” Clinton tweeted on Sunday. The USNS Comfort is a Naval medical ship.
Democrats also called for more help for Puerto Rico, with some lawmakers criticizing Trump’s tweeting in recent days. “Mr. President, instead of dividing the country over this you could give support to the 3.4 million Americans without power in Puerto Rico,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., wrote on Twitter Monday.
Brian Fallon, who served as the Clinton campaign’s spokesman, also took Trump to task on Twitter in unusually harsh terms. “Trump’s racist neglect of Puerto Rico is threatening lives. It is time to start caring about the crisis there,” Fallon tweeted.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued an update Sunday on the federal recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, noting that more than 2,300 National Guard members were on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also hit by the hurricane.
FEMA also said the Defense Department has deployed helicopters, amphibious ships and other resources to help evacuate people stranded by the storm.
In Monday’s White House news conference, Sara Huckabee Sanders said that the FEMA and DHS heads were now on the ground in Puerto Rico to access damage, and that the federal government has “done unprecedented movement in terms of federal funding to provide for the people of Puerto Rico and others that have been impacted by these storms.”
The crisis has raised pressure on Trump to visit Puerto Rico to see the damage firsthand. The president visited Texas and Florida earlier this month after the states were battered by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Last week, the White House told CNN that Trump was “committed” to visiting Puerto Rico, but the official said the visit had not yet been scheduled due to “infrastructure concerns.”
If Trump travels to Puerto Rico, he would be only the second sitting U.S. president to visit the island in four decades. Former President Barack Obama made a short trip to Puerto Rico in 2011 for a political event.
Before Obama, the last sitting president to visit Puerto Rico was Gerald Ford, who made a two-day trip to the island in 1976.