“I’ve taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever!” Donald Trump shouted to reporters in late March on the White House South Lawn. Ten seconds later, he felt the need to restate this lie, using passive voice and in the third person, as if to suggest a headline to the assemblage: “Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being!”
Over half a year later, the Trump administration is now illegally stonewalling on the issue of getting congressionally approved natural disaster relief aid to Puerto Rico. In June, Trump signed a $19 billion supplemental bill that required the Department of Housing and Urban Development to begin the funding process by offering an instructive notice to recipient states and territories by September 4. All nine states covered by the bill plus the U.S. Virgin Islands have received this notice while only Puerto Rico, which is expecting $8.3 billion, has not.
On Thursday, top HUD officials appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee to defend the delay. Although the delay violates Trump’s own law and singles out Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens with racist overtones, it is apparently about Trump’s noble commitment to fighting corruption around the globe, according to the officials. (We already heard this joke with Ukraine, and it didn’t go so well.) One official, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Community Planning and Development David Woll, explained that HUD wants a “belt and suspenders plan” to make sure “we’re protecting taxpayers” and “that the money is going to the people of Puerto Rico and not being wasted or abused.” In the meantime, the officials offered neither an excuse for the illegal delay nor a new timetable for compliance. Instead, Woll suggested the notice would come “very soon” while complaining that it is “hard” and “one of our top priorities.”
This scandal is about more than just the narrow goal of getting duly allocated relief aid to Puerto Rico to improve infrastructure before other powerful storms hit. It is yet another example of how the Trump administration favors who it wants and does what it wants even if the law requires otherwise. The thing is, fate does what it wants too. Thanks in large part to disturbing revelations about Ukraine and Syria, we have started to witness the walls around Trump close in and crack at their foundation. At the rate things are going, the dotard-in-chief may very well be yelling superlatives from his padded cell in a split-screen with the Iowa caucuses.