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The Latest: Trump delays his visit to Puerto Rico by a day
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will return to Puerto Rico on Wednesday as part of his fifth trip to the region since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, but on a day off – a day before the first anniversary of the storm.
“I think that the government of Puerto Rico will see a lower rate of recovery and rebuilding than any other island in recent history,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
The president had originally planned to travel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday, but postponed to Wednesday, a visit that comes amid an outcry over the federal government’s recovery efforts, which have been criticized as slow and inadequate.
Trump also said he has delayed his trip because he learned of a plane repair delay.
The Puerto Rico trip is part of a nine-day trip that will also take Trump to Kansas and Missouri and include stops in California and Arizona.
The White House downplayed the delay as the president was under attack for his handling of storm recovery and the president’s tweeted veto of an anti-pipeline measure.
Just hours after Trump publicly rejected a key House Republican attempt to overhaul U.S. energy policy, the president on Tuesday unleashed a series of scathing tweets that compared the project to rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina and berated a congressman for crying after the effort was completed.
Trump’s tweetstorm added to controversy surrounding his energy policy. Early Tuesday, House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited bill overhauling the nation’s natural gas system, which includes a provision that could open the door to new pipelines crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The sprawling measure unveiled a day after the hurricane season ended and five months into Trump’s presidency contains no new energy sources or tax breaks, and it was praised by industry groups and hammered by environmental and consumer groups. Yet the measure still highlighted a Trump administration priority: expanding access to U.S. gas reserves that companies have tapped largely at taxpayer expense but from which less than one-third of the gas has been extracted.
Trump on Tuesday praised the House measure, which would eliminate duplicative state and federal regulations and create a streamlined permitting process for gas pipelines. But Trump also took aim at Rep. Bob Gibbs, who represents a Pittsburgh-area district and is considered to be a rising Republican star.
“While Bob Gibbs and others were crying over his lack of support, the incompetent CEO of FEMA, Brock Long, was given a ‘job well done,’” Trump tweeted. “Is there anything worse than a crying Bob Gibbs?”
Gibbs responded with his own tweet and a sharply worded statement.
“My response to the president’s tweet is this: if the President wants to help me become the Representative to the 6th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, he has two options: run or kiss my ass,” Gibbs said.
During his tweetstorm Tuesday, Trump also declared “I love Puerto Rico,” and he praised long-stalled efforts to construct a natural gas pipeline across the island, but he also reminded voters of his successful defense of his travel ban from six majority-Muslim countries.
The White House said the president was weighing a visit to Puerto Rico after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday that the island could use more federal assistance and suggested that Trump canceled his visit in the wake of criticism over a tweet blasting House Republicans’ energy proposal.
Trump said in the tweet he was traveling to Puerto Rico for a December 3rd anniversary visit, but then switched to Wednesday.
Trump’s planned visit has been overshadowed by the aftermath of the hurricane. On Monday, three senior administration officials said the president was seeking additional military and other disaster relief money for the U.S. territory, and he is asking Congress for more than $6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and related agencies to use while they continue helping Puerto Rico recover.
It was not immediately clear what impact the storm might have on the task of finalizing the request.
In addition to the devastation on the island, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are without power and the U.S. territory is in danger of running out of supplies unless Congress acts soon. FEMA has acknowledged that its overall response to the crisis is not satisfactory, and Trump has turned to the agency for help.