Speaking on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, Trump called Yulín Cruz “grossly incompetent” and a “horror show” who could stand in the way of Puerto Rico being granted statehood.
“I will tell you this, with the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump told Rivera.
“When you do have good leadership, that certainly could be something they talk about,” the president continued. “But with people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no.”
Yulín Cruz, a vocal Trump critic, fired back at the president on Monday, tweeting that he had attacked her for “telling the truth.” She also argued that most Puerto Ricans aren’t in favor of statehood anyway.
More than 3 million U.S. citizens live in Puerto Rico, although they are not afforded many constitutional rights, such as voting in presidential elections, because of the island’s territorial status.
Congress is the only body with power to grant statehood, but many past presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have supported Puerto Rican statehood if that’s what the majority of the islanders wanted.
Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood political party won control of the local legislature, the governor’s mansion and the island’s non-voting congressional seat in 2016. In a June 2017 referendum, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming the 51st U.S. state ― although less than a quarter of registered voters went to the polls, due in part to a boycott by the major parties opposing statehood.
In any case, efforts to obtain statehood have stalled in recent months.
Earlier this month, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reiterated his call for statehood while addressing the aftermath of last year’s back-to-back hurricanes.
“We are second-class U.S. citizens,” Rosselló told CBS News. “We live in a colonial territory. It is time to eliminate that. I implore all of the elected officials, particularly now with midterm elections, to have a firm stance: You’re either for colonial territories or against it. You’re either for giving equal rights to the U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico or you’re against it.”
Since hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last September, Trump and Yulín Cruz have repeatedly traded barbs in the media over the federal government’s response. While Trump downplayed the severity of the devastation in the days after Maria made landfall, Yulín Cruz frequently pleaded with the president to send additional aid.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with inefficiency and bureaucracy,” the mayor said at a news conference last September, days before Trump arrived for his first and only post-Maria visit to Puerto Rico. “I hope as the president comes next week, he doesn’t just get an aerial view of the situation. Let him hear the cries of elderly people outside windows and doors screaming, ‘Help us.’”
Rosselló raised the official death toll of Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 last month following the release of a study on storm-related fatalities commissioned by the Puerto Rican government.
Still, Trump has insisted the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has been “under-appreciated” and was an “unsung success.”
On Sunday, he called into question the credibility of the study, as he has done several times since its release, claiming some Puerto Rican officials just wanted to “blame everything” on him.
“The truth is you have incompetent leadership and the mayor of San Juan is a grossly incompetent person,” he said. “I love the people of Puerto Rico. And I did a great job. I got things to Puerto Rico that nobody could have gotten. ... And instead of getting thank you, we got nothing but bad publicity.”