Bernie Sanders has condemned Donald Trump over his tweets criticising the mayor of hurricane-struck San Juan, saying: “It’s unspeakable. I don’t know what world Trump is living in”.
Over the weekend, and 10 days after Hurricane Maria left 95 per cent of Puerto Rico without electricity and 50 per cent of its residents without drinking water, the President stepped up his attacks on the mayor of its capital city, Carmen Yulin Cruz, after she asked for more help, saying that people were dying.
During a fussilade of 21 tweets published on Saturday, and more on Sunday morning, Mr Trump sought to claim the federal government was responding to the crisis and that critics were politically motivated or else influenced by the “fake news media”.
“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates…..people are now starting to recognise the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great military,” he said.
Mr Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary and who many believe may have beaten Mr Trump in the general election, said the President had spent the weekend tweeting from his “fancy golf club”, while the mayor of San Juan was trying to secure food, water, fuel and electricity for her residents.
“It’s unspeakable and I don’t know what world Trump is living in,” Mr Sanders told CNN.
“The people of Puerto Rico are suffering one of the worst disasters in the history of that island, and we all have to do everything we can to help them.”
He added: “We all have to remember the people of Puerto Rico are American citizens and entitled to the same help as any other community in America.”
The comments of the former mayor of Burlington, whom some believe may launch a presidential bid in 2020, came as Mr Trump scoffed at what he called the “politically motivated ingrates” who had questioned his administration’s commitment to rebuilding Puerto Rico.
Trump claims Puerto Rico suffered because it was ‘surrounded by big water’
The President’s attack, launched from his private golf club in New Jersey, came as American military on the ground in Puerto Rico admitted the situation was unacceptable and they were struggling to transport supplies of water, food, water and fuel to remote locations on the island of 3.5m people.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency”. She begged the President, who is set to visit Puerto Rico next week to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives” and appealed for help “to save us from dying”.
On Saturday, Mr Trump had tweeted: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”
He added: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Mr Trump is due to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday with the First Lady. Ms Cruz, the mayor of San Juan said “of course”, she would meet with the President if he asked for a meeting.
Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich, who challenged Mr Trump for the Republican nomination last year, also voiced criticism of the President’s comments.
“It’s not appropriate. I mean, when people are in the middle of the disaster, you don’t start trying to criticising them,” he said. “I just – I don’t know what to say.”
The Associated Press said thousands more Puerto Ricans had received water and rationed food as an aid bottleneck has begun to ease. But many, especially outside the capital, remain desperate for necessities, including water, power and fuel.
The Trump administration has tried to combat the perception that it failed to quickly grasp the magnitude of Maria’s destruction and has given the US commonwealth less attention than it did to states such as Texas, Louisiana and Florida after they were hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Also appearing on CNN, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended Mr Trump’s tweets and said he interpreted them as the President trying to explain how how difficult the storm relief efforts were.
He said: “I think it’s unfair to say we haven’t done everything we can because we have done everything that we can and will continue to do so.”