WH Official: Puerto Rico Gaffe Was 'Slip of the Tongue'

Spokesman twice referred to American territory as 'that country'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2019 9:09 AM CDT
Updated Apr 2, 2019 1:45 PM CDT
Puerto Rico Funding Fight Turns Nasty
This Nov. 6, 2018, photo shows a tree that was split in two by Hurricane Maria near the Iguaca Aviary at El Yunque, Puerto Rico.   (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Puerto Rico is back in the headlines this week, as President Trump lashes out at its leaders, they lash back, and the Senate tries to figure out how much aid to deliver after the devastating hurricanes of 2017. "It is a mess," says an exec with the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, when asked by Politifact to assess what's going on, at least in terms of the Senate impasse. "You could say that Democrats are holding it up," says Steve Ellis. "You can also say that the Republicans are not being as generous as the Democrats want." A guide to what's going on:

  • Disaster relief: In the Senate, Republicans blocked a Democratic measure that mirrors one from the House, saying it includes too much money for Puerto Rico and not enough for Midwestern states hit by flooding, reports the New York Times. Democrats, meanwhile, blocked a GOP measure, saying it didn't have enough for Puerto Rico. Neither measure even advanced to the floor, and more maneuvering was expected on Tuesday. Politifact has details on what each side is proposing.
  • A mistake: Puerto Rico is a US territory and its residents are American citizens, but a White House spokesman twice referred to the island as "that country" while complaining about how relief money has been spent, reports Politico. Deputy press chief Hogan Gidley later explained it as a "slip of the tongue." He also was asked about Trump's assertion that Puerto Rico's politicians "only take from the USA." Said Gidley: “He gave them a lot of money. They have mismanaged and misused that money. It hurts their people. That’s what he’s upset about.”

  • Trading insults: The president insisted that Puerto Rico already has received enough funding and called San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a previous adversary, "crazed and incompetent." He also called Puerto Rico's leaders "grossly incompetent" and accused them of spending disaster relief money "foolishly or corruptly." Cruz fired back, calling Trump "unhinged" and adding, "He can huff & puff all he wants but he cannot escape the death of 3,000 on his watch. SHAME ON YOU!”
  • Governor weighs in: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello got in on the fight, tweeting, "Mr. President, this 'place' you refer to, #PuertoRico, is home to over three million proud Americans that are still recovering from the storm and in need of federal assistance. We are not your adversaries, we are your citizens."
  • A boast: "The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump," the president tweeted.
  • Controversial figure: Trump is citing a big figure, asserting that Puerto Rico already has gotten $91 billion in federal assistance, "more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before." But that amount is in dispute, notes USA Today. Here is how the Washington Post susses it out: The $91 billion "figure actually reflects a high-end, long-term estimate for recovery costs; a fraction of that has so far been budgeted, and even less has been spent."

  • Telling paragraph: In explaining the impasse in Congress, the Times takes note of this: "Even Puerto Rican politicians could not agree on which of the measures to support." Gov. Rossello, a Democrat, "urged lawmakers to endorse the House legislation. But Representative Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, a Republican, spoke out in favor of the Senate measure." Gonzalez-Colon represents the island in Congress, though she cannot vote.
  • A way forward? "We will get this done eventually," said Sen. David Perdue of Georgia. The AP suggests a possibility: "The path forward is not clear, but a leading option is for the Senate to pass a more narrowly drawn bill simply to get the issue into a House-Senate conference committee. House Democrats insist the talks must produce a final measure with help for Puerto Rico."
(More Puerto Rico stories.)

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