Trump suggested selling Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Maria, says former Cabinet official

Oliver O'Connell
·3-min read
US President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution centre at Calvary Chapel in San Juan: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
US President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution centre at Calvary Chapel in San Juan: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

A former cabinet official has revealed that President Donald Trump suggested that one response to the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria would be to sell the US territory.

Elaine Duke, who served as Mr Trump’s second secretary of Homeland Security when John Kelly was promoted to chief-of-staff, recalled the president’s initial reaction in an interview with The New York Times this week.

“The president’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman, you know,” she said. “Can we outsource the electricity? Can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?”

In his time in office, the president has also suggested buying Greenland from Denmark or trading the Arctic territory for Puerto Rico.

Ms Duke clarified that the idea of selling Puerto Rico was never seriously considered or discussed after it was raised, and that the president had shown concern for the suffering of the island’s people after the disaster.

However she said that the president's concern was overshadowed when he traded angry tweets with politicians in Puerto Rico, which she saw as a frustrating distraction.

Ms Duke said that as the hurricane approached the island in the autumn of 2017, she was derided by other members of the cabinet for trying to get the president to take the situation more seriously.

Having argued for an emergency declaration before the hurricane made landfall, Ms Duke said that Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director at the time, told her: “Quit being so emotional, Elaine, it’s not about the people, it’s about the money.”

Mr Mulvaney denies making the remark.

Ms Duke is the latest ex-cabinet member to criticise her former boss. She told the Times that Trump cares little about policy, and uses “hate-filled, angry and divisive” language.

The most significant role Ms Duke played in her time in the administration was signing the memo to end DACA in 2017 — the Obama-era protections for young immigrants. She said that she was pressured into the plan after being cut out of the decision-making process.

Ms Duke did not include any policy reasons for ending the programme in the memo as she did not agree with the ideas being pushed by then attorney general Jeff Sessions, and Mr Trump's adviser Stephen Miller.

The lack of any specific policy reasoning was at the centre of the Supreme Court ruling invalidating the decision in 2020. The court found that the Trump administration had not considered the implications of shutting down the programme.

Ms Duke, a lifelong Republican, has said that she is not sure if she will vote for the president again.

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