WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday accused the mayor of San Juan of "unfair" criticism of the federal response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, saying that the Trump administration has "done a terrific job."
On Friday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said she was "mad as hell" at the level of federal help. "We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy," she said.
But speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mnuchin said that was wrong.
"I think the mayor's comments were unfair, given what the federal government has done," he said. Asked why it was unfair, he responded: "I haven't been there, but I've been almost on daily calls monitoring what's going on with the rest of the cabinet. I think FEMA's done a terrific job, given a very difficult situation."
By Saturday — 10 days after Maria made landfall on the island as a Category 4 storm — only 5 percent of the island had electricity and the territory’s infrastructure systems were severely damaged, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
President Trump responded to Cruz in a series of tweets, claiming she gave "poor leadership" and that the Puerto Rican officials "want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."
Asked to comment on the tweets, Mnuchin said: "When the president gets attacked, he attacks back."
Mnuchin also defended the administration's tax-cut plan on the show, saying it is not intended to give relief to the very wealthy.
“The objective is not to give an income tax cut to the wealthy,” Mnuchin said. “The objective is a middle income tax cut.”
Nonetheless, an analysis by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that top 1 percent of earners would reap the lion's share of benefits from the Trump plan. The top one-tenth of wealthiest earners would enjoy an average tax cut of $722,510 in 2018 and $1,022,120 in 2027 under the plan, the analysis found.
Mnuchin said Trump won’t sign a tax bill that he believes would increase the deficit. But he defined that deficit increase in a different way than most non-partisan tax experts would do, saying that optimistic economic growth estimates would offset the projections that the tax cut will cost $1.5 trillion.
“On a static basis, our plan will increase the deficit by a trillion and a half," Mnuchin said. "Having said that, okay, you have to look at the economic impact. There's $500 billion that's the difference between policy and baseline. That takes it down to a trillion dollars. And there's $2 trillion of growth. So with our plan, we actually pay down the deficit by $1 trillion. And we think that's very fiscally responsible.”
Mnuchin on Sunday declined to comment on Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s decision to resign on Friday after facing mass criticism for the use of a private plane funded by taxpayer dollars.
But he did hold firm on his own decision to request a small government plane for travel, including for a trip to Kentucky in August where his wife was hit with criticism for an Marie Antoinette-like Instagram post about the ride. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing that flight.
“I never said it was a mistake,” Mnuchin said. “It was approved by the White House and there were reasons why we needed to use that plane that are completely justifiable and we look forward to the IG report.”