San Juan Mayor Tells President Trump 'It's Not About Politics'

SAN JUAN, PR (ABC NEWS) - San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told President Donald Trump Tuesday that hurricane relief efforts on the island were "not about politics," days after Trump sparred with Cruz via Twitter over her criticism of the federal government's response.

"It’s all about saving lives, it’s not about politics," said Cruz to Trump as they shook hands following a briefing earlier in the day.

Trump accused Cruz of “poor leadership” and speculated that "Democrats" told her to "be nasty to Trump" in a barrage of tweets over the weekend after the mayor denounced a comment by the acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who said last week she thought the federal government's reach in Puerto Rico was "a good news story."

It was originally unclear if Trump and Cruz would meet, but on Tuesday morning Cruz announced that she had been invited to the briefing and had accepted.

"I will use this opportunity to reiterate the primary message: This is about saving lives, not about politics; this is also about giving the people of Puerto Rico the respect we deserve; and recognizing the moral imperative to do both," said Cruz prior to the meeting in a statement.

Trump touted the response to Hurricane Maria as he attended the briefing on relief efforts, noting that the territory's officials "can be proud" of the relatively low death toll on the island compared to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Noting that "every death is a horror," Trump called Katrina "a real catastrophe" given its "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died," before asking a Puerto Rican official for their "death count."

"Sixteen people certified," continued Trump after receiving a response. "Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud."

Cruz characterized the president as having a "lack of sensibility" in an interview with CNN Tuesday afternoon. She later told the network that she felt the most productive part of the meeting came after Trump spoke when she was among a group that met with White House staffers.

"I truly believe that they finally saw the connection, or the disconnect, between what they were hearing on the one hand and the reality of what is happening on the ground," the mayor said.

The meetings came as Trump visited the island in his fourth hurricane-related trip in the course of just over a month. Hurricane Maria carved a path of destruction across Puerto Rico two weeks ago in a storm season that has already seen hurricanes Harvey and Irma create billions of dollars in damage in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Trump specifically commented during the briefing on the high cost of rebuilding the island and restoring its infrastructure following the storm.

"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack," said Trump. "Because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico and that's fine. We saved a lot of lives."

The president said he will meet with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and military officials, first responders and the people of Puerto Rico. Additionally, he said the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands will “probably” travel to Puerto Rico to meet with him.

Trump is being accompanied on the trip by first lady Melania Trump.

The president’s trip comes amid some criticism over the federal government’s response to the island twice hit by a hurricane in the past month. The president has repeatedly defended the federal response.

“It’s been amazing what’s been done in a very short period of time on Puerto Rico,” the president said in the Oval Office Monday.

The island is still grappling with the damage caused by Hurricane Maria and deeply plunged in recovery efforts. Only 47 percent of the island’s water customers have access to potable water and 95 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power, according to the office of Puerto Rico's governor.


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