Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has been criticized for kowtowing to President Trump over disaster relief, but he has now taken a different approach. “It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage,” he said in an interview with CNN in which he was asked whether he felt as though he were dealing with a bully.
“If the bully gets close,” he responded, “I’ll punch the bully in the mouth.”
The White House was apparently the “bully” in this abstract reference. Rossello later explained that it was “a metaphor.”
President Trump apparently told Republican senators “behind closed doors” that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal disaster relief funds. This is not the case. The $91 billion figure may come from the estimate of the funds needed to rebuild Puerto Rico. FEMA says that the Island has actually received $11.2 billion in funds.
Trump also tweeted this figure, along with a complaint that he had received “so little appreciation.” He falsely claimed that Puerto Rico had received more than Florida and Texas “combined,” and that Puerto Rico’s government is misusing the funds they have received. In another tweet, the president said of Puerto Rico that “their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess — nothing works.”
Rossello responded with a tweet of his own, saying, “Mr. President, once again, we are not your adversaries, we are your citizens.”
However, the issue that prompted Rossello’s remark was the refusal of the White House to meet with representatives of Puerto Rico’s government. The White House denies that they have refused to meet.
A Senate bill for disaster relief failed to pass last week. This bill would have provided $600 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, but would not have given as much in other disaster aid as the House version of the bill. The House bill would also have removed a funds-matching requirement which has made it difficult for Puerto Rico to receive allocated funds.
“The devastation left behind by Hurricane María has depleted our resources. Currently, we simply do not have the funds to cover cost-share requirements set forth – unilaterally and unnecessarily – by FEMA,” the governor said. “We reiterate that we are not setting new precedent as this help has been extended to other jurisdictions in the past. We merely request equal treatment.”
Is Puerto Rico receiving equal treatment?
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley called Puerto Rico “that country” twice in an interview on MSNBC, later explaining that it was “a slip of the tongue.” The MSNBC interviewer had asked why Trump’s tweets talked about Puerto Rico “taking” from the United States, “American farmers,” etc.
Asked whether President Trump considered U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico equal to those living in States, Gidley said the question was “absolutely ridiculous.”
Governor Rossello disagrees.
“He treats us as second class citizens, that’s for sure,” the governor said. “And my consideration is I just want the opportunity to explain to him why the data and information he’s getting is wrong. I don’t think getting into a kicking and screaming match with the President does any good. I don’t think anyone can beat the President in a kicking and screaming match. What I am aiming to do is make sure reason prevails, that empathy prevails, that equality prevails, and that we can have a discussion.”