Trump jokes Puerto Rico is throwing federal budget "a little out of whack"

Last Updated Oct 3, 2017 1:39 PM EDT

President Trump on Tuesday joked to officials in Puerto Rico that the U.S. territory is throwing the federal budget "a little out of whack" after Hurricane Maria.

The comments drew almost immediate backlash on Twitter, especially after Mr. Trump has already criticized the island for being in debt and unprepared to manage the fallout from the storm. Mr. Trump, who has praised the federal response to the storm as critics say it has been too slow, also said officials should be "proud" the death toll has been low, comparing Puerto Rico's experience to the "real catastrophe" of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Much of the island is still without power or clean drinking water.

"Mick Mulvaney is here — uh, right there," Mr. Trump said, pointing to Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget. "And Mick is in charge of a thing called budget. Now, 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, and that's fine."

"We've saved a lot of lives," the president continued. "If you look at the — every death is a horror — but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died. And you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering. Nobody's ever seen anything like this. What is your death count? Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be proud of what's taken place."

It isn't the first time Mr. Trump has hit Puerto Rico over the category 4 storm. In a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers last week, Mr. Trump lamented that the local government there was "totally and, unfortunately, unable to handle this catastrophic crisis" alone, and said the U.S. economy will take a bit of a "hit" from Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria. 

The president spent much of his weekend in a Twitter war with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. 

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke called the response to the disaster a "good news story," to which Cruz said, "Dammit, this is not a good news story," but a "'people are dying' story." Mr. Trump, tweeting from his golf course in New Jersey on Saturday, hit Cruz for her "poor leadership." Cruz attended briefing Tuesday.

The president is spending Tuesday meeting with federal and local leaders in Puerto Rico, in yet another test of his leadership skills as he works to disprove critics who say his response to Puerto Rico has been too slow and lacking in empathy.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.