MIAMI – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who has clashed with President Donald Trump over disaster aid and has complained that residents of the U.S. territory are treated like “second-class citizens,” indicated that he’s tired of being pushed around by the White House.
“If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth,” Rossello told CNN. “It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage.”
The comments escalate a war of the words between Trump and Rossello, who is pushing to keep disaster aid flowing to repair the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria in late 2017. During a private lunch with Republican U.S. senators on Tuesday, Trump said Puerto Rico has received too much money and pushed back against providing more, according to those present. He’d also previously suggested that the aid was being diverted to pay bondholders, which isn’t the case.
The Tuesday episode reprized an approach Trump has advocated before. Rossello insists the president is misinformed about the island, which is still recovering from the 2017 storm that killed an estimated 3,000 people and crippled its electricity system.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent billions to directly aid families and help with the immediate emergency, funds have flowed more slowly into what FEMA calls “permanent work” — restoring infrastructure and facilities to pre-disaster levels.
The government’s immediate approach buttressed claims that it’s been treated differently than states such as Florida and Texas that were hit with disasters. A University of Michigan report found the government took took 30 times as long in Puerto Rico after Maria to get to the same level of staffing as Florida saw after Hurricane Irma.
At a press conference Thursday in Washington to rally support for making Puerto Rico the 51st state, Rossello renewed his criticism of Trump.
“The comments from the president show a lack of empathy,” Rossello said. “They’re inaccurate. They’re unjust and I feel that he has advisers who must be misleading him.”
“I would ask the president to cease the insults and the attacks,” he said. “We are not your political adversaries, Mr. President. We are your U.S. citizens.”