Oct 12, 2017, 1:48 PM ET

Trump: FEMA, first responders can't be in Puerto Rico 'forever'

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President Donald Trump said Thursday the federal government cannot keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Puerto Rico "forever," even as the U.S. territory continues to reel from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in September.

"We cannot keep FEMA, the Military, the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!" Trump tweeted.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz slammed Trump's tweets as "adding insult to injury" and "unbecoming."

"Your tweets and comments just show desperation and underscore the inadequacy of your government's response to this humanitarian crisis. It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done," Cruz said in a statement.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also responded to Trump's tweets Thursday morning by arguing that Puerto Rico is simply asking for the "support that any of our fellow citizens would receive."

At a press conference Thursday, Rossello followed up, saying he called the White House in search of clarification on Trump's tweet.

The island is still in crisis mode as it struggles to restore power. Residents still do not have access to clean water, and more than 5,700 residents are living in shelters, according to Rossello's office. Reports of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, are beginning to surface. According to Puerto Rican officials, 64 percent of people have access to water.

The death toll since the hurricane has risen to 44. The Department of Defense said Thursday that only 10.6 percent of the island's residents have power.

A news release from the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said there are "reports of residents obtaining or trying to obtain drinking water from wells at hazardous waste Superfund sites in Puerto Rico." The EPA also warned that raw sewage is seeping into Puerto Rico's waterways and will continue to do so until power is restored and repairs are made.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson downplayed the sentiment in Trump's tweets before the House Financial Services Committee Thursday.

"We're not going to abandon them," said Carson, who added that "it's not beneficial to go around shaming people in general," when pressed by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. about the president's comments.

The House of Representatives will vote Thursday on legislation that would include $18.7 billion for FEMA's disaster relief fund and $16 billion for debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The bill also includes a provision for the Disaster Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows low-income residents in Puerto Rico to receive the same emergency nutrition aid that hurricane-affected states can receive.

Trump visited Puerto Rico on Oct. 3 to survey the damage and meet with victims of the hurricane. He was criticized for throwing supplies into the crowd and for saying that local officials "can be proud" of the low death toll (which was 16 at the time of his visit), compared with the "thousands" lost in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

He said during a Hispanic Heritage event at the White House last week, "We will not rest" until Puerto Rico has recovered from Maria.

"We will be there all the time to help Puerto Rico recover, restore, rebuild," Trump said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry was grilled by Democrats on the House Energy committee on the administration's response to Puerto Rico during a hearing on Thursday, with Rep. Kathy Castor, D- Fla., calling Trump's threat to pull FEMA, military and first responders from the island "disheartening."

"The challenges are real. I can’t tell you that there are any quick or fast solutions. Rebuilding it back to where people have power right now is the number one goal," Perry said.

Perry apologized for calling Puerto Rico a country instead of a U.S. territory.

ABC News' Joshua Hoyos and John Parkinson contributed to this report.

News - Trump: FEMA, first responders can't be in Puerto Rico 'forever'

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CComments

  • concernedvoter

    When we see Trump and his KGB wife in Chest Deep Flood waters trying to save lives then we can talk about how good or bad the Mayor of San Juan has been. Until then she's been a Hero and he's still a Zero Golfing away at his Luxury resorts while people go hungry, thirsty and lose their lives. While all he did was tweet about NFL Players for over a week.

  • concernedvoter

    This Republican President has proven to be the biggest embarrssment to the world that the USA has ever produced since its inception. Its becoming humiliating. Just like Putin wanted. Are you happy now Republicans?

  • concernedvoter

    FEMA is still helping out with the Katrina Victims years later.

  • concernedvoter

    There isn't a single US coast line Major City that could survive getting hit with 2 Cat 5 Hurricanes in a row, within 10 Days. Not NYC, Boston, Tampa, Miami, CA, Not San Diego etc.. none. without it experiencing severe Flooding and Power Outages. Just like Punta Gorda Fl which was dessimated by Hurricane Charlie. Florida alone was brought to its knees after a Cat 3 Irma hit South Florida turning into a cat 2 and 1 quickly. It took weeks to get things in Order. They still have piles of Hurricane debri on some roads. Why would you critisize Puerto Rico after such a Catastrophic hit?

  • concernedvoter

    Here we have a case where a Sitting US President is refusing to provide the required Emergency support to US Citizens that they've paid for with US Tax Dollars and lives in all major US Wars. The people of Puerto Rico may have to Sue the President for theft of Services. This may be an impeachable act.

  • concernedvoter

    FEMA - the "Federal Emergency Management Agency" is a Federal Agency in place to Deal with Emergencies that affect US States and Territories like Puerto Rico, St Thomas, Guam etc Like an Insurance they pay for. It's paid for with Federal Tax Dollars which all states and Territories like Puerto Rico Pay. What Trump is trying to do is stiff Puerto Rico out of that Assistance. He acts as if this is his money and he's giving Puerto Rico a a handout. The guy is clueless and incompetent.

  • concernedvoter

    Karma will eventually take care of this criminal. Once you realize all of this Bizarre Divisive Trump behavior is geared to distract from the On Going Russia Investigation, the fact that over 3000 Facebook adds were purchased by Russians with Rubbles and targeted key Swing States like Wisconsin and Michigan, something they could have only known working with the Trump Administration then all of this Orange Clowns Three Ring Circus antics will make sense. The People of Puerto Rico and others will have the last laugh when he and his crooked administration are all taken off in handcuffs.

  • Screenshots

    God I hate this man.

  • owthathurts

    I hope the people of Puerto Rico know that The Creature does not speak for most Americans.

  • Good for Trump...Puerto Rico needs to mobilize their citizens to help. Get those union drivers to start moving supplies.

  • USA Dad Overseas

    Can we please impeach President Orange Nixon yet?

  • GoodCoffee

    Easy. These are mostly non-English speaking people and mostly non-white. American or not, we know how much Republicans hate these kind of people.

  • Jrducky

    “Trump was criticized for throwing supplies to the people in PR”
    Supplies??? Try rolls of the cheapest paper towels he could find!!

  • ROBOTIX JONES

    Puerto Rico should be fine. Dotard shot a few paper towel rolls to em and then went to enjoy two scoops.

  • Roger

    Puerto Ricans don't vote. Those in the states don't vote for him.

    He doesn't care about them

  • eleanors rose

    Im not an Eminem fan, but did anyone see his take down on Trump?

    Its visceral

    it's probably the best political commentary and summary of what's been going on that I've ever heard, and everybody talks about trump all the time but Eminem just nailed it. And it wasn't even long but it was intense.

    I strongly suggest everybody do a search on it and listen to it it's probably the most powerful piece of political opinion that I've heard since trumps been in office

  • eleanors rose

    The time for the 25th has long passed...

  • eleanors rose

    man he is racist as the day is long.

    He just absolutely hates nonwhites

    ... and all women