Trump to Puerto Rico: 'You've thrown our budget a little out of whack'

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Oct 3 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday on a mission to reassure the island's struggling residents that he is committed to their recovery from a devastating hurricane that has tested his ability to manage natural disasters.

One of the first people Trump met when he and his wife, Melania, touched down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the city's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has repeatedly blasted Trump as showing insufficient concern about the U.S. territory's plight.

Trump, who has grappled with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the past six weeks, praised the federal assistance so far in Puerto Rico but said at a briefing that the disasters are straining the boundaries of the U.S. budget.

Click through to see images of the first couple during their Puerto Rico visit:

18 PHOTOS
Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico
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Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico
CAROLINA, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 03: President Donald Trump and Melania Trump greet U.S Air Force airmen as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base as he makes a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The President has been criticized by some that say the government's response has been inadequate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) as they take their seats for a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump visits with residents while visiting Puerto Rico to survey relief efforts following Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017 REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he walks through a neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Maria with first lady Melania Trump as the president tours hurricane damage in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with residents as first lady Melania Trump (C) and U.S. Rep and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer Gonzalez (R) look on as the president visits areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump greets troops as he arrives aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz before a briefing to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, sitting between Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and first lady Melania Trump, sits down to a briefing on hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump (L), wearing boots, arrive aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels to a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits a disaster relief distribution center at Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet troops as they depart the USS Kearsarge off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with local residents during a walking tour of areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico," he said. "And that's fine, we've saved a lot of lives."

The trip offered Trump the chance to show solidarity with survivors, who are still struggling to get basic necessities, and demonstrate how his government intends to help them recover after they were hit by Maria, the worst hurricane in 90 years.

A few days earlier Trump had lashed out at Cruz on Twitter for "poor leadership" on the weekend after she criticized his government's response. He cited "politically motivated ingrates" and said some people on the island "want everything to be done for them."

Trump shook hands with Cruz after his arrival but he saved his warm words of praise for other local and federal authorities.

"Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics," he said of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Trump's motorcade sped past trees stripped of their leaves, billboards stripped of their advertising, and the occasional home without a roof.

Not all were happy to see him.

"You are a bad hombre," said hand-lettered sign in pink marker held by a woman along the route.

Trump and his wife, Melania, met survivors of the disaster in the nearby town Guaynabo, walking down a street and talking to several families whose homes were damaged. The sidewalks were piled with debris.

"You know who helped them? God helped them. Right?" Trump said.

Later, he was to take a helicopter tour to look at the destruction. He is expected to fly over the USNS Comfort, the just-arrived hospital ship.

Before leaving Washington on Tuesday morning, Trump told reporters that roads were cleared and communication capabilities were coming back on the island. He said the mayor had "come back a long way" since her criticism.

Trump had criticism of his own about the local response.

"Their drivers have to start driving trucks," he said at the White House. "So on a local level, they have to give us more help. But I will tell you, the first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico."

PROBLEMS PERSIST

The economy of the U.S. territory, home to 3.4 million people, already was in recession and its government filed for bankruptcy in May. The storm wiped out the island's power grid, and less than half of residents have running water.

Two weeks after Maria, it is still difficult for residents to get a cell phone signal or find fuel for their generators or cars. About 88 percent of the cellphone sites are still out of service.

Valentine Navarro, 26, a salesman in San Juan, shrugged off Trump's trip as a public relations exercise.

"I think he’s coming here because of pressure, as a photo-op, but I don’t think he’s going to help more than he has already done – and that’s not much," Navarro said.

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello said that as Trump flies over the island he would see "the magnitude of the devastation." He said there were 320 functioning cash machines across the island and that waiting times for gasoline had dropped significantly.

Trump got high marks for his handling of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean.

RELATED: Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation

32 PHOTOS
Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
See Gallery
Life in Puerto Rico amid devastation
A man stands inside of a destroyed supermarket by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Local residents collect water from a broken pipe at an area damaged by Hurricane Maria, in Cayey, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz (R) embraces Esperanza Ruiz, a city administrator, outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows people lining up at a gas station follwing damages caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
An elderly woman stands after receiving food during a supplies distributions at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People line up to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that will take them to the U.S. mainland, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man carrying a water container walks next to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman drinks from a bottle after filling it with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A boy climbs a tree at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
People queue to fill containers with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. Picture taken on September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man rides a bicycle by damaged electricity lines at an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017 REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A shows the damages of his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Children play on the roof of a damaged house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wake up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Monica Lopez (R) looks at her dog at a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People queue at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Damaged houses are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman cleans her house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People wait for their cellphones to be charged outside a store during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to rebuild his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People use their cellphones on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Carlos Cruz (L) wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman uses her cellphone on the street during a blackout after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People wait at a gas station to fill up their fuel containers, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A man tries to repair a generator in the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Hilda Colon wakes up after sleeping in a shelter set up at the Pedrin Zorrilla coliseum after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Caught off guard by the severity of Hurricane Maria's damage to Puerto Rico, Trump did not focus on the storm for days, instead launching a barrage of tweets over his view that National Football League players should be required to stand during the U.S. national anthem.

A previous Republican president, George W. Bush, faced widespread criticism for his administration's initial handling of Hurricane Katrina, which killed some 1,800 people in and around New Orleans in 2005.

Images of Trump standing together with mayors, the governor and federal officials would go a long way toward showing Americans the White House is addressing the hurricane damage, said retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

Allen, who led the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, said the presidential visit will provide a chance to communicate that Americans care about the disaster on the isolated island territory.

Trump's administration has transferred more than $20.5 million in federal funds to Puerto Rico to defray disaster expenses, FEMA said on its website.

The administration is preparing to ask Congress for $13 billion in aid for Puerto Rico and other areas hit by natural disasters, according to congressional sources said.

But that money will only go so far. The island's recovery will likely cost more than $30 billion.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in WASHINGTON and Gabriel Stargardter in SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Catherine Evans and Bill Trott)

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