Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has pushed back on the White House, telling CNN in an interview that he will not sit back, be bullied by the administration and let the people of Puerto Rico be treated like “second-class citizens.”
“I just want to have the opportunity to explain to [President Donald Trump] why the data and information that he’s getting is wrong. I don’t think that getting into a kicking and screaming match with the president does any good. I don’t think anybody can beat the president in a kicking and screaming match. I think that what I am aiming to do is making sure that reason prevails,” said Rosselló told reporter Jim Acosta.
Rosselló added, “If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth. It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage.”
His rhetoric comes on the heels of a reportedly tense encounter in which senior White House officials warned representatives for Puerto Rico that they needed to cease pushing so hard to arrange a meeting with Trump. The aim of the requested meeting would be to address the ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017.
Officials for Puerto Rico told CNN that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, along with other senior officials, said, “Your governor is f***ing things up.” Another official reportedly said, “You guys have to f***ing stop with the meeting request.” The White House has not commented on this exchange.
This week, Trump told Republican legislators at a closed-door meeting, “Puerto Rico had gotten too much money to rebuild after Hurricane Maria,” according to NBC News. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was quoted as saying Trump called the amount “way out of proportion to what Texas and Florida and others have gotten.”
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told NBC on Wednesday that Puerto Rico has received tens of billions of dollars in aid and that “the Trump administration will not put taxpayers on the hook to correct a decades-old spending crisis that has left the island with deep-rooted economic problems.”
Previously, Trump and Rosselló were on decent terms. The pair met in 2017 to discuss the financial and hurricane recovery plans for the territory. Trump even tweeted about the goodwill between them:
Since then, Puerto Rico officials have criticized Trump for not coming through with necessary disaster relief.
Tensions have gotten so high that after the meeting this week, Rosselló issued a statement calling out Trump.
“The comments attributed to Donald Trump today by senators from his own party are below the dignity of a sitting President of the United States. They continue to lack empathy, are irresponsible, regrettable and, above all, unjustified,” said Rosselló in the statement.
“Mr. President: Enough with the insults and demeaning mischaracterizations. We are not your political adversaries; we are your citizens.”