Entertainer Trump does Puerto Rico, Vegas
WASHINGTON — Nearly a week after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump got around to taking his comic road show to the U.S. territory in the Caribbean.
As part of his routine, he tossed rolls of paper towels to the natives, as if he were shooting baskets or feeding animals in a zoo. Perhaps in his mind it was his way of helping the massive cleanup they face in the months ahead without water, power and other necessities of life.
Having already tweeted to Gov. Ricardo Rosello that “we are with you,” and then castigating the mayor of San Juan for “poor leadership” in coping with the recovery, Trump tried to yuk his way into the islanders’ hearts.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico,” he ribbed them, “but you’re throwing our (federal) budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.” The line didn’t seem to go over too well.
So he laid on some praise. He commended the governor for keeping the death toll down to “only” 17 at the time — later it went to up 34 — compared to the more than 1,800 reported after Hurricane Katrina that clobbered New Orleans in 2005.
In so doing, the president brushed aside the complaints of many Puerto Ricans, including local officials, that numerous shipments of relief materials stood undistributed to the needy.
He continued his customary congratulations for the “great” work the feds were doing (to his own credit, of course).
The next day, Trump still accompanied by his wife, Melania, moved on Las Vegas, where he more somberly offered his and the nation’s condolences to the families of 59 victims killed in the worst mass shooting in American history.
In the process, he at first offered not a word about the ability of the assassin to assemble an arsenal of 23 deadly weapons, some modified to fire multiple rapid rounds of bullets into the crowd below his luxury hotel window.
Only later did Trump allow that “we will be talking about gun bans as time goes by.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supported him, offering the opinion that it was “completely inappropriate to politicize an event like this.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, recently returned to Capitol Hill after his hospitalization for treatment of gun wounds in the shooting at a congressional baseball game, agreed.
“I think it’s a shame,” Scalise said, “that the day somebody hears about a shooting, the first thing they think about is, ‘How can go promote my gun control agenda?’ as opposed to saying, ‘How do I go pray and help the families that are suffering?'”
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama put his view more succinctly: “I’m a Second Amendment man. I’m not for any gun control.”
But his fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina allowed he “would be willing to look at” a proposal by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a longtime gun-control advocate after the gunning down of gay politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco George Moscone when Feinstein was president of that city’s Board of Supervisers.
After the Las Vegas attack she swiftly called for a ban on so-called “bump stocks,” available online for $200, that can convert a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic weapon. The Las Vegas shooter had used one.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte of Virginia on Thursday also agreed that the proposal merited consideration.
After the slaughter of 20 small children and six of their educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, similar demands for stronger gun control were triggered and backed by then President Barack Obama.
But the powerful gun lobby in Congress easily rejected them, and with Trump already on record as its “true friend” in the Oval Office, the odds for tougher gun control laws still seem unlikely.
Yet with establishment Republicans in need of an issue to regain a modicum of public support in the era of Donald Trump, this one may be the best they can hope for right now.
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.