White House Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s response to the devastation that Hurricane Maria has wrought on Puerto Rico, blaming media coverage for skewing perception.
Speaking with reporters outside the White House, Bossert said the media was distorting the federal government’s actions to respond to the hurricane, which made landfall last week and became the most powerful storm to hit the island in almost 90 years.
“I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we aren’t moving fast enough,” Bossert said.
He reiterated that getting resources to the island – where 3.4 million people have been left without power, and water and food are scarce – was difficult, saying there’s “an understandable degree of devastation on the island.”
“We are mobilizing and marshaling the resources of the United States of America in a way that is absolutely professional, fast, and adequate to meet the needs,” Bossert said.
President Donald Trump has faced criticism over its response to the hurricane from Democrats and some Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Ben Sasse.
Critics have argued that Trump was slow to publicly acknowledge the hurricane, focusing instead on his fight with NFL players protesting racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.
After a weekend of lashing out at NFL and the NBA over a separate controversy, Trump on Monday tweeted about the crisis, highlighting the island’s debts. On Tuesday, he amended a disaster declaration to make available additional emergency funding.
On Thursday, the Trump administration temporarily waived the Jones Act, a law that many lawmakers and economic experts had said was hampering the island’s recovery by requiring that non-US ships carrying goods between domestic ports face steep tariffs. The law was passed after World War I as a way to protect the domestic shipping industry.
The president previously wavered on suspending the act, saying on Wednesday that “we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted, and we have a lot of ships out there now.”
For his part, Trump has dismissed questions about whether he was too preoccupied to focus on hurricane relief.
“I’ve heard that before about was I preoccupied,” Trump said. “Not at all. Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work. And to be honest with you, that’s an important function of working. It’s called respect for our country.”
Trump will travel to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands next week.