Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Thursday that he won’t allow his officials to be bullied by the White House at a time when President Donald Trump and his administration have doubled down on their opposition to granting the island hurricane recovery funding.
"If the bully gets close, I'll punch the bully in the mouth," Rosselló told CNN, referring to Trump.
His remarks come after the president told Republican legislators at a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting Tuesday that Puerto Rico had received too much money to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. The amount “is way out of proportion to what Texas and Florida and others have gotten,” Trump said, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
While Rosselló told CNN that "it would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage," some critics questioned why the governor didn’t show this kind of “courage” when Trump first visited the disaster area in October 2017. During that visit, Trump said Puerto Rico was not a “real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina was in New Orleans.
“The governor is desperate because he knows that history will remember him as a coward,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who recently announced she is running for governor in 2020, said on Twitter. “When he had to, the governor of Puerto Rico praised the President. Realizing [now] that his complacent attitude towards Trump is hurting him politically, the governor pretends to be taking Trump on.”
Rosselló's comments come on the same day he voiced his support for a new bill introduced by Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., on Thursday to make Puerto Rico the nation's 51st state.
Trump has reportedly refused to meet privately with Rosselló numerous times to discuss the pace of disaster relief a year and a half after Maria killed at least 2,975 people in 2017 — making it the deadliest natural disaster in the United States in 100 years .
According to CNN, senior White House officials told Rosselló's top aides that Puerto Rico representatives were insisting too much on setting a meeting with the president.
One Trump official insisted that they stop requesting the meeting, using a vulgarity to say the governor was messing things up, according to what Puerto Rican officials told CNN.
For more than a year, Trump and his administration have been criticized over their response to Maria.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans left for the mainland — some temporarily — and the U.S. territory incurred about $90 billion in damages.
Federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency later acknowledged failures in areas including staffing and coordination , while others such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated historic amounts of funding for housing, infrastructure and energy — but most of that money has not made its way to communities in Puerto Rico.