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Scoop: Homeland security adviser pushes upbeat PR campaign for Puerto Rico

Tom Bossert. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump digs in this morning, tweeting: "We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates, ... people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military."

In contrast to dire reports from the island, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert sent West Wing colleagues an unusually upbeat update — leaked to Axios — that points to a rapid recovery no one on the ground is witnessing.

Bossert, back from a trip to Puerto Rico earlier in the week, says it's "still an urgent situation," but that the administration has "a strong ground game in place on the island with military leadership":

  • "I hope to turn the corner on our public communications ... I recommend that [this weekend] we use the general theme of supporting the governor and standing with the people of Puerto Rico to get them food, water, shelter and emergency medical care."
  • "Monday and Tuesday we can pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing as we address temporary housing and sustaining the flow of commodities and basic government services, including temporary power. After that we focus on restoration of basic services throughout next week and next weekend."
  • "Then we start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico. Planned hits, tweets, tv bookings and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts."
  • "The storm caused these problems, not our response to it. We have pushed about as much stuff and people through a tiny hole in as short a timeframe as possible."
  • Full text here.

The White House's sunny plan comes as TV reports "increasingly echo those after Katrina a dozen years ago in sounding the alarm for a desperate population frustrated by the pace of relief efforts," AP's David Bauder points out:

  • "The words were blunt by the usually easygoing Bill Weir on CNN: 'This is a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we have not seen for a long time.'"
  • "With each day, reporters are questioning the effectiveness of relief efforts that U.S. officials say are going well. Several news organizations showed truckloads of emergency supplies sitting in a port because drivers couldn't be located to distribute them."
  • "NBC's Gadi Schwartz told Rachel Maddow of hundreds of officials milling around an air conditioned convention center, seemingly unsure what to do."
  • CBS News' David Begnaud, who has been in Puerto Rico since before Maria hit on Sept. 20: "I'm tired of going to press conferences where officials give credit to other officials for being involved."
  • Begnaud and CNN's Leyla Santiago "both said they receive hundreds of messages a day from people on the mainland, asking them to check on relatives."

Be smart: President Trump's tweets blame Puerto Rico for its straits (WashPost lead story: "Trump's newest target? A mayor" ... L.A. Times lead story: "Trump lashes out at Puerto Ricans"), and try to undermine skeptical coverage ("Because of #FakeNews my people are not getting the credit they deserve for doing a great job").

  • But having failed to bank credibility of his own, Trump looks out of touch as he heads to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
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