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  • U.S. and Puerto Rico flags hang on a damaged church after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico Sept. 26, 2017.

    U.S. and Puerto Rico flags hang on a damaged church after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico Sept. 26, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 April 2019

“With all we’ve done in that country, they have systematic mismanagement of the goods and services we’ve sent to them,” Gidley said.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley referred to Puerto Rico as “that country” twice in an MSNBC interview on Tuesday — despite the fact that the island territory has been part of the United States for over 120 years, a day after two disaster relief bills stalled in the Senate.

RELATED: 
Puerto Rico Governor Appeals to US Senate to Pass Aid Bill

Gidley's comments came as he defended U.S. President Donald Trump’s storm of tweets that morning attacking Puerto Rico and its need for “too much money” after Hurricane Maria devasted the island and left it without power and resources.

“With all we’ve done in that country, they have systematic mismanagement of the goods and services we’ve sent to them,” Gidley told MSNBC host Hallie Jackson.

Jackson responded, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States. People who live in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. You’re rolling your eyes and I don’t know why you’re rolling your eyes.” 

Gidley later said it was a "slip of the tongue." Though as Puerto Rico's leaders are pressing an apathetic administration for aid, the Trump regime continues to channel resources to Venezuela.

A day before Gidley's remarks, a major disaster relief bill stalled in the United States Congress amid a political debate over aid for Puerto Rico, with President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans resisting the Democrats' insistence on the island receiving additional assistance.

The Republican-controlled Senate took two procedural votes on Monday that both failed. The first was over a Republican bill offering US$13.5 billion in disaster relief for states that included US$600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico.

The second regarded a US$14.2 billion bill, with additional assistance for the U.S. island territory, passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in January before severe flooding hit the U.S. Midwest.

The failure of both bills sent lawmakers back to the negotiating table as the Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, receives increased scrutiny, including from more than a dozen Democrats vying to take on the president in the 2020 elections.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said over the weekend that while the nutrition assistance in the Senate bill would be "vital to the wellbeing of our citizens," it still "falls short" of what is needed on the island of more than 3 million which has struggled to rebuild after the hurricane.

Trump has repeatedly accused Puerto Rico and its leaders, including Rossello and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a vocal Trump critic, of mismanaging recovery funds and said the island should not receive additional assistance.

"Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being," Trump told reporters last week. "They don't know how to spend the money and they're not spending it wisely."

Rossello has said the island has only asked for the same help given to U.S. states and has repeatedly sought a meeting with the president, but his efforts have been rebuffed. Rossello said in a recent CNN interview that Puerto Rico had struggled to obtain billions of dollars in assistance from the Trump administration that was already approved by Congress.

Puerto Rico is navigating the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history, with US$120 billion of combined bond and pension debt when it declared bankruptcy in May 2017 after more than a decade of recession.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who has authored an alternative disaster assistance bill, accused the president of picking "winners and losers."

"Instead of standing with our neighbors, our fellow Americans, the president has chosen to hold petty grudges that are way beneath the office of the presidency," Leahy said on the Senate floor.

The topic of Puerto Rico and its recovery from Hurricane Maria surfaced repeatedly at a Monday forum of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates organized by labor unions and other liberal groups.

Although Puerto Rico nationals are U.S. citizens and send a non-voting resident commissioner to the House, they are prohibited from voting in general presidential elections. But they can cast ballots in the nominating contests starting early next year.

Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, told the forum of his decision to kick off his campaign by visiting the island, "The reason I did that was to highlight the total failure of this administration but also to tell the people of the island you're Americans and we're thinking of you too."

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