President Donald Trump’s latest tweets regarding recovery efforts in Puerto Rico were a direct response to remarks made by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz criticizing Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, a GOP source familiar with internal discussions said.
“The timing of the tweets coincide with her renewed criticism,” the source told CNN.
Puerto Rico is still largely without electricity and clean water following widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria, nearly a month after it made landfall.
Yulin Cruz and Trump have clashed throughout the recovery process, including yesterday when she was quoted by Public Radio International as saying “I don’t give a s—” about Trump’s comments about her.
The President also labeled Yulin Cruz “nasty” in a tweet shortly after the storm hit.
Thursday morning, Trump tweeted, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Not long after, Yulin Cruz responded via Twitter: “@POTUS It is not that you do not get it; you are incapable of fulfilling the moral imperative to help the people of PR. Shame on you.!”
Despite the back and forth, the source echoed White House assurances from press secretary Sarah Sanders that the Trump administration is fully committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery from Maria.
White House chief of staff John Kelly also touched on Puerto Rico at a press conference Thursday, saying Trump’s tweet was “exactly accurate,” considering they would not be there forever.
“The minute you go anywhere as a first responder, and this would apply certainly to the military, you will try really hard to work yourself out of a job,” Kelly said Thursday at the White House. “There will be a period in which we hope sooner rather than later, the US military and FEMA, generally speaking can withdraw because then the government and people of Puerto Rico are recovering sufficiently to start the process of rebuilding.”
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” that he did not view Trump’s tweets as a “threat” to withdraw aid to Puerto Rico and conceded he did not know why Trump decided to make those statements Thursday morning.
“I don’t have a great answer for you on the timing,” Short said.
Short also argued it was wrong for the government to take this moment to expand hurricane relief into larger assistance for Puerto Rico.
“I think there’s a growing push to say help fix the problems that existed before the hurricane,” Short said. “And that’s not fair to the American taxpayer.”
Still, a separate Republican source who has been in touch with the administration on relief efforts in Puerto Rico questioned whether the President has a firm grasp on what his own administration is doing on the island.
“He appears not to understand what his own administration is doing or how the federal government operates,” the source said. “Sometimes his tweets go 180 degrees against what he said a few days before or what his lieutenants are executing at his request.”
Another GOP source who advises the White House defended the President’s criticism of Puerto Rico, insisting that the island needs to get its finances in order. But the source conceded the optics of the president’s handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico have been “terrible.”
Still, this source summed up White House attitudes about Yulin Cruz, describing her as a “Dem hack” who is trying to “score political points.”
Former Republican Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno said he was baffled by the President’s tweets.
“It’s puzzling, given everything the administration is doing to reconstruct the island. I sense a real commitment from everyone in administration to go the extra mile,” he said.
CNN’s Eli Watkins contributed to this report.