Trump’s upbeat Puerto Rico rhetoric clashes with reality on the ground

Destroyed communities are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 28. | Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

President Donald Trump says his administration is deftly responding to the devastating hurricane that leveled Puerto Rico, but the jarring gap between his rhetoric and the dramatic reports about dire conditions there is raising fresh questions about the effectiveness of recovery efforts on the island.

As his administration grapples with the third hurricane to hit the United States in a matter of weeks, and as the relief operation in Puerto Rico kicks into gear, Trump has repeatedly said he’s getting positive reviews. “Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: ‘The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered,’” Trump tweeted Friday.

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But nine days after Hurricane Maria knocked out the island’s power, communications system and some roadways, Americans there are still struggling to get supplies and phone service.

“There’s always a danger whenever you start responding in a way that says, ‘Hey we’ve done a great job,’ and there are still people in need,” said Thomas Atkin, a former Coast Guard admiral and principal deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. “It’s kind of like a football coach at halftime saying, ‘Hey, we’re winning.’ You still have half a game to play.”

Publicly, Trump and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have praised each other, with the president claiming Friday morning on Twitter, “FEMA and First Responders are amazing. Governor said ‘great job!’” But while Rosselló has repeatedly expressed gratitude for the federal help, he told MSNBC on Friday that the federal “response still is not where it needs to be.”

Part of the problem is, as Trump has…

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