Trump on Puerto Rico: 'I will always be with them!'

Congressional delegation to visit island Friday

By DANIELLA DIAZ AND ELIZABETH LANDERS , CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump sought Friday to repair political damage over his handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico, tweeting that he "will always be with them."

"The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H's. I will always be with them!" Trump tweeted Friday morning.

The day before, he ignited outrage after he said federal aid can't be there "forever," suggesting that the island's government is going to have to shoulder more responsibility for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria. The island is still reeling from a lack of electricity, public health access and a rising death toll.

He reiterated his support Friday afternoon in a response to questions about the tweets from CNN's Jim Acosta as he boarded Marine One at the White House, declaring to reporters, "I love Puerto Rico."

He said his administration has done "a great job" but repeated criticism he levied the day before of the electric grids and infrastructure, saying "they were gone before the hurricane" and that the island was "in bankruptcy" before the storm hit.

"We have to help them get the plants rebuilt. That's a long-term project, unfortunately. But we have to help them," he added.

Trump's remarks on Thursday -- he blamed the beleaguered island for a financial crisis "largely of their own making" and infrastructure that was a "disaster" before the hurricane -- quickly prompted cries from Democratic lawmakers, who argue that Puerto Rico still needs a lot of help, as well as the mayor of San Juan, who said they were "unbecoming" and appeared to come from a "hater in chief."

The President had written in two separate tweets, "'Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.' says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of........accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend..."

He continued in a third tweet: "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

Attkisson is a journalist who works for conservative Sinclair Broadcasting.

A FEMA official told CNN Thursday the agency has "no hard deadline" on when it plans to pull resources from the island.

House Speaker Paul Ryan led a bipartisan delegation visiting Puerto Rico on Friday, traveling with House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the panel. Puerto Rico's sole representative in Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers were scheduled to attend.

The House of Representatives approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package Thursday to help victims struggling to recover from a string of devastating hurricanes and wildfires. The measure now heads to the Senate, which returns from a weeklong recess next week.

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