Puerto Rico experienced a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday and endured hundreds of subsequent tremors. And while President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the island to deal with the aftermath, he hasn’t spoken or tweeted about the disaster that took place on the US territory.
The earthquakes have left roughly two-thirds of the islands without electricity and 32 of the subsequent temblors have been a magnitude 4 and above. On Wednesday, Trump approved an emergency declaration on the US territory, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist. A public health emergency was also declared by Health and Human Services.
The White House press office, which did put out a statement on the earthquakes, said they speak for the President when asked why Trump hasn’t said anything publicly himself about the disaster.
Trump’s public silence has persisted even though he often publicly comments on natural disasters in the US and abroad.
Since taking office, the President has tweeted public statements on similar seismic events in California and Mexico. He’s also sent thoughts and prayers to those affected by tornadoes, storms and wildfires in Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Missouri and Tennessee. Most recently, he sent “love” to Australia as the country battles wildfires.
Trump has had a fraught history with the US territory since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm and aftereffects, including widespread power outages. Trump has consistently denied any fault for his administration in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the President has instead sought praise for his handling of Hurricane Maria, calling it “an incredible, unsung success” last year.
The President has indicated that Puerto Rico may not deserve the level federal funding it has obtained and was damaged before Maria struck the island.
“Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of (…) accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes,” he tweeted in October 2017. “Congress to decide how much to spend. (…) We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Trump has also suggested corrupt politicians on the island were to blame for mismanagement of the federal funds and opposed sending the aid to Puerto Rico part of a relief bill last year.
Things between the White House and the Puerto Rican government came to a head when the White House repeatedly declined to meet with Puerto Rican officials to discuss what they saw as dire circumstances in the wake of the storm. Puerto Rico’s then-governor, Ricardo Rosselló, called Trump a bully and threatened to punch him in the mouth over the issue.
Rosselló had been embattled with allegations of corruption and resigned in July 2019 when Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published messages Rosselló and members of his administration that were profane and homophobic.
Rosselló’s threat to punch the President after Trump told Republican senators that he questioned the wisdom of directing more storm relief aid to Puerto Rico, despite the fact that billions of dollars in funds have already by authorized by Congress.
Puerto Rico is still waiting for some $18 billion in federal aid designated in the wake of the 2017 storms.
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal and we call upon the administration to cease and desist that illegal activity.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.