In a rant today, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on the attack against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. After Cruz criticized Trump – after he initially criticized her – Huckabee Sanders charged that she “chose to make that a political statement instead of a time of focusing on the relief efforts.”
However, if you listen to what Trump did and tweeted, what Sanders charged and what the Mayor really said, it is the president who was making it political and the Mayor who was trying to bring a dose of reality to a nearly impossible situation – one that is getting worse, not better.
Sanders complained that Mayor Cruz did not speak up when Trump spoke to her and a group that included other mayors, but Cruz says most of the mayors were not present because the vast majority still can’t even get out of their hometowns.
“We have towns where the Mayors have not been heard from,” she said, “because there is no communication.”
The Mayor scoffed at the idea it was impossible to get the communication systems to them in this modern digital age: “I can’t believe there are logistical problems. You go to Timbucktoo, you’re in the middle of the desert, you sit down the solar panel and there’s communication.”
“I think the world,” she said bitterly, “needs to pay more attention to what they see and less to what he says.”
The Mayor said at the event that she did attend during the president’s visit, claiming that Trump was insufferable and only wanted to talk, not listen.
“I was at the first briefing that lasted for about 17 minutes when the president proceeded to say that Katrina was a real disaster,” recalled Mayor Cruz, “and went on to congratulate us because there were only 16 deaths.”
“We’ve got to stop calculating lives as if they were chips,” she added with disgust. “It just doesn’t work that way. When you don’t know and you haven’t gotten everywhere, you just can’t say what the total death toll is.”
“And then he talked about the debt,” she continues. “Then he talked that we were ingrates. We have no time for that. we have no time for small politics. We have no time for the kind of discourse that is trying to change the focus from where it should be.”
The PBS reporter asked if Trump should have seen more of the island.
“If your heart isn’t open,” replied the Mayor, “it doesn’t matter where you go.”
“Throwing paper towels at people,” she said with a sour look. “That doesn’t show a lot of sensitivity. So you know, he can attack me all he wants. Bring it on. I’m here. As long as it gets the message out that we are thirsty, we are hungry, we need supplies.”
She said Trump boasted that 100,000 people have registered with FEMA, but that is a fraction of the 3.5 million people on the island. She said if even half of those are still in devastated areas – which is a conservative guess – that means there are 1.2 million who still need help they are not receiving yet.
Mayor Cruz praised the American military, workers, and volunteers who are there but said they are all stymied by a rigid system that isn’t adapting to the changing situation.
“What’s happening is that standard operating procedures are being put in place without taking into consideration the real variables,” said Mayor Cruz.
In what clearly was her message to Trump, she added, “When you’re in the habit of just listening to those that tell you things are OK then you are in trouble.”
She praised Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan who has been leading the American effort.
“He was just forward when he said, ‘Look, I don’t have everything I need. This is the worst devastation I’ve ever seen.”
“The Pentagon also put out a paper this Sunday,” continued the Mayor, “that said, look, I don’t know why the president keeps saying things are going better. Let me tell you one thing that’s going really badly soon. The water levels are depleting so we may be running into further problems.”
“But this is really about saving lives,” lamented the Mayor. “This isn’t about politics. People make it about politics because they want to change the dialogue because looking at the injustice and the suffering in the face will have to make them admit their failure.”
And we know Trump never admits failure and never apologizes.
So Sanders can go on the attack in the dry, warm, comfort of the White House, but it is the gutsy Mayor of San Juan who has the high ground because she is not the one playing politics with people’s lives.
That’s Trump’s disgusting game.