President Biden ran into his predecessor, Donald Trump, the Monday before en route to Puerto Rico to survey damage caused by Hurricane Fiona last month – and told reporters the island was not “very well looked after” after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“I’m going to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken care of very well,” Biden said as he left the White House, with more than 100,000 homes on US territory still without power two weeks after Fiona hit as a Category 1 storm.
“They’ve been trying like hell to catch up with the last hurricane,” the president added. “I want to see the state of things today and make sure we push everything we can.”
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico with devastating Category 4 winds eight months after Trump took office. The former TV host and property developer’s subsequent visit to the island was best remembered for the 45th president discard rolls of paper towels into a crowd of locals as if they were souvenirs.
The recovery after Maria was characterized by local corruption and inefficiency.
More than 10 million water bottles was left unused on an airport tarmac and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority awarded a $300 million no-bid contract to rebuild the island’s power grid for a small Montana company tied to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The contract was later canceled under review.
A former Federal Emergency Management Agency official pleaded guilty this year to accept a bribe from another electricity company that was given $1.8 billion in contracts to rebuild the infrastructure.
Trump defended his handling of the crisis, blaming local officials — including Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who had said of Trump: “If the bully gets close, I punch the bully in the mouth.”
“Puerto Rico has been taken better care of by Donald Trump than by any human being alive, and I think the people of Puerto Rico understand that,” Trump said in 2019.
“You have the mayor of San Juan [Carmen Yulín Cruz] who honestly does not know what she is doing and the governor, they need to spend the money wisely. They don’t know how to use the money and they don’t use it wisely.”