Many Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after Hurricane Maria and could be key in deciding the outcome of the critical swing state.
Donald Trump on Friday claimed he was the "best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico," despite personally blocking funding to the U.S. territory for years, even as the island tried to rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
At a White House news conference, Trump announced a new aid package supposedly intended to help Puerto Rico's recovery process. The money, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement earlier on Friday, will be used to "replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines, electrical substations, power generation systems, office buildings and make other grid improvements" and "will focus on restoring school buildings and educational facilities across the island."
"I have to say in a very nice way, very respectful way, I’m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico," Trump said during the afternoon press conference. "Nobody even close."
But Trump has not been good for — or to — to Puerto Rico.
In November 2018, nearly a year after Hurricane Maria decimated the island and took out its already ailing power grid, Trump told congressional leaders he didn't want any more aid being sent, even though the island was still in bad shape and needed critical help in its recovery.
In April 2019, Trump called a request for nutrition assistance for the people of Puerto Rico "excessive and unnecessary." That same month, he accused the island of "only tak[ing] from USA" and its leaders of "hurt[ing] our Farmers and States!"
Months later, in June 2019, after Congress finally passed additional Puerto Rico disaster funding, Trump demanded credit for the relief even though he had spent years trying to block it.
Trump even once mused about selling the island of Puerto Rico, according to Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, who has since denounced Trump and endorsed Joe Biden for president.
"He wanted to see if we could sell Puerto Rico, if we could swap Puerto Rico for Greenland, because in his words, Puerto Rico was 'dirty' and the people were poor," Taylor said in an interview on MSNBC.
And it wasn't until January of 2020 that the Trump administration finally released billions in aid to the island, months after it was supposed to.
Reporters and political experts have questioned the timing of Friday's announcement, 46 days before an election, where the Puerto Rican vote could help decide the outcome of the critical swing state of Florida.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida following the hurricane in 2017, and Trump is now vying for their vote. Without winning Florida, Trump's paths to an Electoral College victory are slim.
"I heard you many times over the past couple of years say that Puerto Rico got too much money," ABC News' Jonathan Karl said to Trump at the briefing. "Just last year you said Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. ... You said 'never again.' You said Congress gave too much money to Puerto Rico. Why now?"
Trump responded by claiming again that Puerto Rico was corrupt, before pivoting and claiming he was simply "building that up as a great medical, pharmaceutical, manufacturing area."
"...We're going to be taking back a lot of the business that we let go for years," he claimed. "We're gonna bring it back, they were very good at it."
He added, "You have to do something about their [power] grid. Their grid is a disaster."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.