Trump Gives Himself a 10 Out of 10 on Puerto Rico Storm AidBy
More than three-quarters of residents still lack power
Suggests repayment of recovery loans should take precedence
President Donald Trump Thursday said his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico deserves a perfect “10” rating, even as only one in five residents has electricity.
Trump also suggested that he wants repayment of any loans provided for reconstruction to take precedence over the commonwealth’s existing debt. He met with the commonwealth’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, at the White House.
“Well, any debt that’s put in will be coming before that debt. We want to make sure that we put in debt and that is absolutely protected,” Trump told reporters during the meeting. “Certainly any money that’s put in by people whether it’s public or private, they’re going to want to come in first position and that’s very important, and I think the governor understands that.”
Trump also lauded his administration’s response to the hurricane.
Rating the White House’s handling of the storm on a scale of 1 to 10, Trump said, “I give ourselves a 10,” because “we have provided so much so fast.”
Rossello, who is in Washington to lobby for more aid for his territory, sidestepped a question from a reporter about how he would rate the administration’s response.
When Trump followed up by asking him, “Did we do a great job?” Rossello answered: “You responded immediately, sir.”
Wide Power Outages
Four weeks after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico, 22 percent of the island’s residents have electricity and 72 percent have access to drinkable water, according to a website set up by the U.S. commonwealth tracking recovery efforts.
Puerto Rico owes $74 billion of debt and another $49 billion in pension liabilities. It fell into bankruptcy in May after years of economic decline and borrowing to cover budget gaps.
Prices on commonwealth bonds have fallen after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island on Sept. 20. General obligations with an 8 percent coupon and maturing in 2035 traded Thursday at an average of 30.4 cents on the dollar, the lowest since the debt first sold in 2014, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who also attended the meeting, said federal authorities are focusing on restoring essential services and rebuilding the power grid first in six major municipalities on the island.
Rossello said the island will come out of the disaster stronger as long as the federal government will “treat us the same as citizens in Texas and Florida.”
Rossello is seeking as much as $4.6 billion in short-term relief and a long-term package to help repair the island, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Trump said he has “given my blessing to Congress” on a plan that is in the works but he didn’t elaborate on details.
Rossello is also set to meet with Vice-President Mike Pence, budget director Mick Mulvaney, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.
The Senate Thursday may pass a hurricane and wildfire relief bill that would give Puerto Rico access to $4.9 billion in low-interest Treasury loans, Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on Bloomberg TV. The House approved the measure last week. Rossello’s administration has warned that it may run out of cash by the end of October.
— With assistance by Michelle Kaske