WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump indicated on Friday that the exact mechanism for financing Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria remains to be determined.
“The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding,” the president said on Twitter.
Puerto Rico suffered a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma a week before Maria slammed into the US commonwealth last Wednesday as a monstrous Category 4 storm that claimed at least 16 lives and knocked out power, water and communications.
Trump went on to cite praise from Puerto Rico’s governor for the federal government’s response to the disaster.
“Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: ‘The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered,’” the president tweeted.
The Trump administration has faced mounting criticism from politicians in Puerto Rico and on the US mainland over its handling of the increasingly desperate situation on the island.
In a speech later Friday to the National Association of Manufacturing, Trump prefaced his prepared remarks about tax reform with comments on Puerto Rico.
“All appropriate departments of our government from Homeland Security to Defense are engaged” in relief efforts in Puerto Rico, the president told an audience of business executives, while reiterating his earlier observation that the efforts are made more difficult by the commonwealth’s nature as “an island, surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”
He also raised again the issue of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt, which has forced the island’s government to accept a federally appointed oversight board that effectively controls fiscal policy.
“Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort – it will end up being one of the biggest ever – will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” Trump said.
On Thursday, the president placed US Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan in overall command of military operations to aid Puerto Rico in recovering from the storm.
Buchanan, a three-star general, played the same role in New Orleans in 2005 following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Trump plans to visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday.