President Joe Biden visited Puerto Rico on Monday, as part of his promise to “rebuild it all” after Hurricane Fiona.
Predictably, Biden distracted from his message with a characteristic gaffe.
“I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home, politically,” Biden said. “We have a very, in relative terms, large Puerto Rican population in Delaware — relative to our population. We have the eighth-largest Black population in the country. And between all minorities, we have 20 percent of our state is minority.”
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Biden later claimed to have “spent a lot of time in the northern part of the state,” despite Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory and not a state.
“We came here for a long time, both for business and pleasure, since you’re part of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Delaware is as well. And I was chairman of the [Senate] Judiciary Committee.”
Earlier this year, Biden erroneously referred to himself as a senator from Delaware instead of a president.
Take a look —
Biden: "I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically." pic.twitter.com/iapq1qqxpx
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) October 3, 2022
BIDEN: "There have not been many senators from Delaware. It's a small state. Matter of fact, there's never been one." pic.twitter.com/V4UjREzkWq
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) May 2, 2022
Puerto Rico suffers a higher poverty rate than any state. Still, the territory boasts a population of 3.2 million people. In other words, it’s more populous than 20 U.S. states, including Delaware.
Biden addressed this fact with another gaffe.
“I come from a little state — the little state of Delaware,” Biden said. “It’s not like the congresswoman from New York; she’s from a big state.” Biden was presumably referring to Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent.
“Puerto Rico is a strong place, and Puerto Ricans are a strong people. But even so, you have had to bear so much, and more than need be, and you haven’t gotten the help in a timely way.”
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The damage from Fiona, which came only five years after the even more powerful Hurricane Maria, will test the Biden administration’s ability to help the island recover and bolster its defenses.
“What happened with this hurricane is that even though it was Category 1, in terms of water it was like Category 4,” Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told Biden, according to Fox News Digital.
“Puerto Rico has been through so much in recent years,” Biden said. “Hurricane Maria five years ago; a 6.4 magnitude earthquake two years ago. Folks slept outside for days worried about their homes would collapse on them if they went in. Then, COVID-19. And then, Fiona.”
Fiona made landfall on Sept. 18, knocking out power to the entire island. Although electricity has been restored to 90% of its 1.47 million customers, more than 137,000 others, mostly in the hardest hit areas of Puerto Rico’s southern and western regions, continue to struggle in the dark. Another 66,000 customers are without water.
The weather remained ominous during Biden’s visit on Monday. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed in the distance.
“I don’t want the headline to read, ‘Biden brings storm to Puerto Rico,’” he joked. “So I’m gonna maybe have to cut this a little short.”
Puerto Rico isn’t the only corner of the country that’s reeling from disaster. Florida is cleaning up after Hurricane Ian churned across that state last week, killing more than 60 people, decimating some coastal communities and flooding others. Biden plans to visit Florida on Wednesday to survey damage.
“You know, I also know many people in Puerto Rico have many family friends and friends in Florida,” Biden said. “Jill and I will be in Florida on Wednesday. And as I’ve made clear: At times like these, our nation comes together, put aside our difference — our political differences and get to work. We show up when we’re needed.”
In Puerto Rico, the president was accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, who joined volunteers in a sweltering school gymnasium. She helped stuff plastic bags with canned goods, fruit cups, snack packages and rice. Pallets of bottled water were stacked along the wall.
Fiona caused catastrophic flooding, tore apart roads and bridges, and unleashed more than 100 landslides when it hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 18. At least two people died after being swept away by floods, and several others were killed in accidents related to the use of candles or generator during the island-wide power outage.
Government officials have estimated some $3 billion in damages, but warn that costs could rise significantly as evaluations continue.
Some people in Puerto Rico wondered whether Biden’s visit would change anything.
Biden recently told Pierluisi that he authorized 100% federal funding for 30 days for debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water restoration, shelter and food.
Pierluisi, a Democrat, asked for the funding to last for 180 days. Biden said that 30 days was enough.
The lack of electrical power on the island led to the temporary closure of businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores, as fuel supplies dwindled amid heavy generator use. As a result, many cheered the Biden administration’s decision to temporarily waive a federal law so that a British Petroleum ship could deliver 300,000 barrels of diesel.
Many also have begun demanding that Puerto Rico be fully exempted from the law, known as the Jones Act, that requires that all goods transported to Puerto Rico be aboard a ship built in the U.S., owned and crewed by U.S. citizens and flying the U.S. flag. This drives up costs for an island that already imports 85% of its food.
The Horn editorial team and Associated Press contributed to this article.