Donald Trump has decided that he wants to pivot from “doing not remotely enough for Puerto Rico” to “doing worse than nothing from Puerto Rico”:
President Trump doesn’t want to give Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria, White House officials have told congressional appropriators and leadership. This is because he claims, without evidence, that the island’s government is using federal disaster relief money to pay off debt.
The big picture: Trump also told senior officials last month that he would like to claw back some of the federal money Congress has already set aside for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery, claiming mismanagement.
The White House didn’t comment on this reporting.
Between the lines: Trump won’t be able to take away disaster funds that have already been set aside by Congress, and sources close to the situation tell me the White House hasn’t asked Republican lawmakers to do so. But Trump could refuse to sign a future spending bill that would make more money available for Puerto Rico’s recovery.
Behind the scenes: In late October, Trump grew furious after reading a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Wirz, according to five sources familiar with the president’s reaction. The article said that “Puerto Rico bond prices soared … after the federal oversight board that runs the U.S. territory’s finances released a revised fiscal plan that raises expectations for disaster funding and economic growth.”
Sources with direct knowledge told me Trump concluded — without evidence — that Puerto Rico’s government was scamming federal disaster funds to pay down its debt.
On Oct. 23, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico’s “inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
At the same time, White House officials told congressional leadership that Trump was inflamed by the Wall Street Journal article and “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills,” according to a congressional leadership aide. “He was unhappy with what he believed was mismanagement of money,” the aide said.
A second source said Trump misinterpreted the Journal article, concluding falsely that the Puerto Rican government was using disaster relief funds to pay down debt.
A third source said Trump told top officials in an October meeting that he wanted to claw back congressional funds that had previously been set aside for Puerto Rico’s recovery. “He’s always been pissed off by Puerto Rico,” the source added.
Offering an opportunity for statehood should be one of the first actions of the next Democratic government.