Trump says he's an 'absolute no' on Puerto Rico statehood if critics remain in office

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself an "absolute no" on statehood for Puerto Rico as long as critics such as San Juan's mayor remain in office, the latest broadside in his feud with members of the U.S. territory's leadership.

Trump lobbed fresh broadsides at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a critic of his administration's response to hurricanes on the island last year, during a radio interview with Fox News' Geraldo Rivera that aired Monday.

"With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn't be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they're doing," Trump said in an interview with Rivera's show on Cleveland's WTAM radio.

Trump said that when "you have good leadership," statehood for Puerto Rico could be "something they talk about. With people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no."

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San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz
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San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz
The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz points as she visits the Playita community with US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I- VT) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on October 27, 2017. More than 73,000 people have fled emergency conditions at home for Florida since Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory in the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz talks with journalists outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz stands outside of the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz talks with journalists outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017 REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz points to a Puerto Rican flag outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz (far L) waits to greet U.S. President Donald Trump 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
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz (foreground) attends a briefing with U.S. President Donald Trump on hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 09: Carmen Yulin Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, throws the first ball as part of the aperture ceremony of the Yadier Molina Celebrity Softball Game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on December 9, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico Carmen Yulin Cruz arrives for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award Show on December 5, 2017, at Barclays Center in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 01: Carmen Yulin Cruz, Mayor of San Juan Puerto Rico, speaks to the media after meeting with the House Democratic Caucus about the current situation in Puerto Rico, on Capitol Hill November 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 1, 2017, after a closed door caucus meeting. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 1, 2017 after a closed door caucus meeting. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 2: San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz believes this is not the time for politics, including the discussion of statehood for Puerto Rico. She says all should come together to try to help the island recover. The debate over whether or not Puerto Rico should be given statehood has surfaced again with the attention hurricane Maria brought to the island. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, hands in solar lamps to La Perla Residents. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 25: Carmen Yulin Cruz, Mayor of San Juan and her husband Alfredo Carrasquillo attend the Silvio Rodriguez concert at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot on March 25, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by GV Cruz/WireImage)
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Cruz responded on Twitter: "Trump is again accusing me of telling the truth. Now he says there will be no statehood because of me."

Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, tweeted: "Equality 4 Puerto Ricans shouldn't be held up by one bad mayor who's leaving office in 2020 & do not represent the people who voted twice for statehood."

Trump's position on statehood for the island puts him at odds with the Republican Party's 2016 platform during its national convention, in which it declared support for Puerto Rican statehood.

The president's remarks followed his claims earlier this month that the official death toll from last year's devastating storm in Puerto Rico was inflated. Public health experts have estimated that nearly 3,000 people died in 2017 because of the effects of Hurricane Maria.

But Trump falsely accused Democrats of inflating the Puerto Rican death toll to make him "look as bad as possible."

Trump's pronouncements have roiled politics in Florida, which has crucial races for governor and U.S. Senate. The state was already home to more than 1 million Puerto Ricans before Hurricane Maria slammed into the island a year ago. Tens of thousands of residents fled Puerto Rico in the aftermath, with many of them relocating to Florida.

The issue of statehood for Puerto Rico — or some form of semi-autonomous relationship — has divided island residents in recent years. The debate over the island's "status" is the central feature of its politics and divides its major political parties.

The federal government has said previously it would accept a change in the status of Puerto Rico if the people of the island clearly supported the decision. But for decades, Puerto Ricans have been divided between those who favor statehood and those who want to maintain the commonwealth, perhaps with some changes. A small minority continue to favor independence.

The last referendum, in 2017, strongly supported statehood but opponents questioned the validity of the vote because of low turnout.

Any changes would need to be approved by Congress. Statehood legislation, with support from Republicans and Democrats, was introduced in June but appears unlikely to gain momentum as politicians remain hesitant to take up such a thorny issue.

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On Twitter follow Ken Thomas at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC.

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