- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico earlier this week amid his administration’s widely panned recovery effort after Hurricane Maria battered the island and left millions without power or running water.
After Trump publicly criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz’s “poor leadership,” he sought to project an air of professionalism and presidential gravitas during his visit to the storm-ravaged island. But the visit didn’t go exactly according to plan.
In a meeting with officials, Trump said the number of people who died as a result of the hurricane was far lower than in a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina, and said that the recovery efforts have thrown the federal budget “a little out of whack.”
During a visit to a church in the wealthy Guaynabo suburb of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, on Tuesday – which has served as a base for distributing aid – Trump was apparently astounded by water purification tablets, and thought the church worker who was describing how they worked was pitching him on a business, according to an account in The Washington Post.
Here’s the relevant passage, per The Post’s Arelis R. Hernandez and Jenna Johnson:
“Wait,” Trump said, “you put it in dirty water?”
“And then you can drink it after 10 to 12 hours,” she explained.
“Would you do it? Would you drink it?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said.
“Really?” Trump said, a disgusted look coming across his face.
“Really,” she said.
“Is this your company or something?” Trump asked the woman, seeming suspicious of the aggressive pitch.
“No,” she said, “I’m part of the church.”
“This is an interesting thing,” Trump said as he started to hand out the kits. “Try that.”
After telling the crowd of assembled reporters and people affected by the hurricane to “have a good time,” Trump lobbed paper towel rolls into what he called a “great crowd.”
Trump then remarked that he’d never seen canned chicken before.
“Whoa! I’ve never seen that before,” Trump said, per The Post. “That looks kind of good. Let’s start handing it out. Do you feel like this?” The president then mimed tossing the heavy cans into the crowd, as he did with the paper towel rolls, before the crowd stopped him.
Trump was also fascinated by the flashlights, shining them at both himself and the cameras assembled in the crowd. As he handed the flashlights out, he said: “Flashlights, you don’t need them anymore. You don’t need them anymore,” The Post reports.
Trump’s administration has tried to paint the recovery efforts in a positive light, but the situation on the ground remains dire. Less than half the island’s 3.4 million citizens have access to clean drinking water, and more than 90% of residents still don’t have power. Distributing supplies to remote areas has proven exceptionally difficult, due to the lack of trucks and navigable roads.
On top of that, the island’s economy is in tatters, having declared a $70 billion bankruptcy in May – the largest ever for a local government in the US. After Trump said the island’s debt should be wiped out on Thursday, Puerto Rico’s benchmark bond fell to a record low.