In 2017, Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico. Nearly 3,000 residents died in the aftermath of the storm that took out electricity and clean water across the island. But while President Trump was in a position to send aid to the US territory, he apparently floated the idea of selling off the island instead.
That’s according to Elaine Duke, Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security at the time. In a new interview with The New York Times, Duke recalls Trump’s eagerness to pass off responsibility for the island.
“The President’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman, you know,” Duke explained. “Can we outsource the electricity? Can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?”
Still, Duke said that the Trump White House “never seriously considered or discussed” selling Puerto Rico.
Trump has a tense track record when it comes to Puerto Rico, an unaffiliated territory of the United States. When Hurricane Maria struck, it caused upwards of $43 billion in damage in addition to the deaths. But Trump has suggested that those numbers were exaggerations. Accordingly, he was hesitant to shell out federal aid to repair the island territory.
Trump accused officials in Puerto Rico of mismanaging the billions of dollars in aid that they did receive. Pointing to no evidence, Trump accused Puerto Rican leadership of spending the relief money on items unrelated to hurricane clean-up. By November 2018, the White House was telling Congressional leaders that the President did not want to send any additional aid to the island.
Despite Trump’s hostility toward Puerto Rico, he has denied any responsibility for the island’s long, difficult recovery. Rather, he has insisted that his handling of Hurricane Maria was an “incredible, unsung success” for his presidency.