The Latest In Washington D.C. -- Tuesday Edition 2
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 26, 2017. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Here are the biggest stories out of Washington D.C. so far today.

The Latest on the Republican effort to overhaul the Obama health law (all times local):

2:05 p.m.

Senate Republicans will not vote this week on the latest, last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

That’s the word from senators as they emerged from a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona shook his head and said “no” when asked about plans for a vote.

The setback marks the end for the latest drive to overturn the law, a promise the GOP has made to voters for seven years.

The latest iteration of the bill was sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, but opposition from at least three Republican senators in the narrowly-divided Senate sunk the measure’s chances. Democrats were unified in their opposition.

WASHINGTON — The Latest on U.S. policy on North Korea (all times local):

2:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says it’s time for all nations “to join forces to isolate to the North Korean menace.”

He says all nations must act now for the denuclearization of North Korea.

Trump repeated praise he offered last week for China’s reported breaking off of banking relations with North Korea.

There has been no official confirmation from China of such a step. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner.

Trump was speaking at a press conference Tuesday after meeting the leader of Spain.

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions against North Korean banks.

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1:30 p.m.

The Trump administration is using new sanctions authority to punish eight North Korean banks and 26 bank workers living abroad.

The sanctions rely on an executive order President Donald Trump signed last week to target North Korea’s access to the international banking system. They come as the United Nations has also recently passed its toughest sanctions package targeting North Korea.

The eight banks are all in North Korea. The Treasury Department says the 26 individuals are North Korean nationals employed by those banks who work in Russia, China, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the U.S. is targeting those “across the globe” who facilitate financial transactions for North Korea. He says it’s part of the effort to isolate North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

President Trump, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy press conference touches on NFL, Puerto Rico, North Korea and more.

President Trump doubled down Tuesday on his criticism of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, calling the protests “disgraceful” and blatantly disrespectful to veterans who fight for flag and country.

“I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem,” Trump said at a Rose Garden press conference.

The president, in response to criticism in the media, insisted he was not preoccupied with the controversy – and is focusing instead on the federal government’s hurricane response in the Caribbean.

But explaining his decision to speak out on the anthem protests, Trump cited all those who have died or been injured fighting for the United States.

“They were fighting for our country, they were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem,” he said, referring to injured soldiers he’s visited at Walter Reed. “For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem I think is disgraceful.”

Echoing an earlier tweet, he said the NFL should not allow players to kneel, saying he was “ashamed” by the protests.

Meanwhile, Trump said “we are totally focused” on storm recovery.

After announcing earlier in the day he’ll head to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico next Tuesday, he said in the Rose Garden that he’ll also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We’re doing everything in our power to help the hard-hit people in both places,” Trump said. “… We will get through this.”

The president spoke during a joint press conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

His comments on the NFL mark the latest turn in a rapid-fire debate over anthem protesters that kicked up last Friday when Trump said football players disrespecting the flag should be “fired.” Specifically, he said NFL owners should push to “get that son of a b—- off the field.”

The president’s remarks touched off an escalating standoff with team owners and players alike, with hundreds kneeling or locking arms or even sitting out the anthem entirely since Friday.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump called on the NFL to change its own rules to prohibit kneeling during the national anthem, while swiping at the Dallas Cowboys after the team — along with owner Jerry Jones — kneeled before the anthem ahead of their game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

Trump said there is “great anger” in the stands over these spectacles.

The president covered a wide range of other topics in Tuesday’s press conference, including North Korea.

Following a new series of threats from Pyongyang, Trump warned that the U.S. is “totally prepared” for a military option, though that is not the preferred course.

“If we take that option, it will be devastating … for North Korea. That’s called a military option, if we have to take it, we will,” he said.

Of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump said, “He’s saying things that should never, ever be said.”

Trump was meeting with Rajoy, meanwhile, to discuss several common concerns including trade and the fight against terrorism.

Spain last month was the victim of attacks that killed 16 people in the tourist haven of Barcelona and a nearby town. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Trump said Tuesday they are “very, very unified in the fight.”

Trump also mentioned his desire to renegotiate trade deals the U.S. has with other countries, but suggested that isn’t the case with Spain.

On trade, Trump says he’s had a “good nine months” with Spain.

Trump, Spanish Prime Minister Hold Joint Press Conference

The Latest: USGS sees widespread beach erosion from Maria

WAVES, North Carolina — The Latest on Hurricane Maria (all times local):

4:55 p.m.

The U.S. Geological Survey says two-thirds of the beaches in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have a high chance of eroding as Hurricane Maria swirls offshore.

Maria’s strength is diminishing, but oceanographer Joseph Long says its strong winds are still generating large waves that will hit the coastline from North Carolina to Maryland’s eastern shore. As the storm moves north, those large waves will erode beaches and in some cases “overwash” the dunes that protect coastal communities.

The USGS Coastal Change forecast shows about 60 percent of North Carolina dunes will be eroded, and 5 percent of that coastline will be under sea water.

In Virginia, it shows two-thirds of the beaches north of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay are likely to erode, and a third overwashed.

And in Maryland, high water could reach and erode sand dunes along two thirds of the coastline, with less than 5 percent of the dunes overwashed.

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3:40 p.m.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been able to reach most of her family in Puerto Rico, after several days of trying.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg says Sotomayor’s relatives are doing OK as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Sotomayor shared her concerns last week because she couldn’t contact about half her relatives after Maria walloped the island.

Sotomayor’s parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico before she was born.

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3 p.m.

Hurricane Maria is pushing high surf over North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where more than 10,000 visitors were told to leave the islands.

The evacuation orders don’t apply to local residents, who are now resigning themselves to more flood damage after a double pounding by last year’s tropical weather.

Sarah Midgett lost her car during Hermine and her home was severely damaged by Matthew’s floods. This year, Jose pounded the dunes, and now Maria is sending waves past this weakened natural barrier, flowing under homes. She says “it’s insane how much the beach has eroded.”

Meanwhile, in the town of Waves, kite surfing instructors had been booked solid this week, but lost all their reservations after tourists were forced to evacuate. Adrienne Kina, who normally works as a saleswoman at REAL Watersports, says this storm “is going to screw” the locals all over again.

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2:40 p.m.

The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of debris removal and other emergency assistance to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

President Donald Trump made the change Tuesday as part of an amendment to his earlier disaster declaration authorizing federal aid. U.S. states and territories typically cover 25 percent of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent. But the island’s government is so strapped for cash that Puerto Rican officials and sympathetic members of Congress had called on Trump to waive the cost-sharing requirement.

Trump’s declaration covers the removal of downed trees, utility poles and other debris, as well as spending for emergency measures to protect lives and public health and safety.

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1:25 p.m.

It’s getting easier to leave Puerto Rico, where more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens still lack adequate food, water and fuel five days after Maria pounded the island as a Category 4 hurricane.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan is handling nearly 100 arrivals and departures daily, including military and relief operations as well as more than a dozen commercial passenger flights per day.

The agency is taking reservations for arrival and departure slots to manage space at the airport and safely separate aircraft in the air.

Maria destroyed or disabled a number of essential radar, navigation and communication systems, so the FAA has been bringing in replacements by air and sea, and technicians are working now to get them working.

The FAA says a long-range radar in the Turks and Caicos returned to service on Monday, giving air traffic controllers a much better picture of planes and helicopters in the region. Meanwhile, technicians are using chain saws to cut a path through a rain forest to reach a mountaintop where a second long-range radar site remains offline.

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12:45 p.m.

The Federal Highway Administration is helping Puerto Rico with damage assessments so that emergency relief money can help restore roads throughout the island.

The TS Kennedy, a former commercial freighter used by the Maritime Administration for training, is currently sailing from Texas to the Virgin Islands to support hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Island and Puerto Rico.

The Federal Transit Administration is working with FEMA on improving ferry service between Puerto Rico islands. As of Monday, limited ferry service was available during daylight hours to transport emergency supplies to Vieques and Culebra.

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11:55 a.m.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says he’s spoken “as recently as last night” to President Donald Trump about the crisis Hurricane Maria caused on the island. He says he’s “confident the president understands the magnitude of the situation.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at a Puma gas facility in San Juan, Rossello said “the president has offered a waiver on matching funds” for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which means the cash-strapped island won’t have to contribute to the initial costs of this federal help.

Rossello said he’d be speaking with Trump later today to discuss “a long-term recovery package for Puerto Rico to be presented to Congress,” apparently next week.

He also said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has offered to send a National Guard unit to aid in security

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9:45 a.m.

Officials in North Carolina estimate more than 10,000 people have left the Outer Banks as Hurricane Maria moves closer.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said Tuesday morning that it’s impossible to get exact figures on how many people evacuated Hatteras Island after they were ordered to do so. But Pearson said officials think between 10,000 and 12,500 people have left the island ahead of the storm. Hatteras has a year-round population of about 500 people, who are not required to leave.

Pearson said the worst conditions were expected Wednesday into Thursday morning.

Hyde County officials said Monday they thought about 700 visitors would leave because of the evacuation ordered for Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke has a population of about 1,000 residents.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from Morehead City to the North Carolina-Virginia state line.

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7:30 a.m.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are bracing for the effects of Hurricane Maria, even though the storm is expected to pass the state at least 150 miles (240 kilometers) offshore.

Schools were closed Tuesday in all of Dare County because of expected tropical storm conditions. Dare County includes much of the Outer Banks, as well as some inland areas along Pamlico Sound.

The National Weather Service in Morehead City, North Carolina, said significant beach erosion is expected north of Cape Lookout. Storm surge of between 2 feet (0.6 meters) and four feet (1 meter) is expected, mostly north of Cape Hatteras.

Officials ordered visitors to leave both Ocracoke and Hatteras islands ahead of the storm.

They warned dangerous rip currents were possible in the ocean for the rest of the week.

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6 a.m.

Hurricane Maria has weakened slightly as it moves northward in the Atlantic off the coast of the Carolinas.

Maria’s maximum sustained winds Tuesday morning are near 75 mph (120 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria is expected to keep gradually weakening and is forecast to become a tropical storm Tuesday night or Wednesday.

The storm is centered about 210 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and is moving north at 7 mph (11 kph).

A tropical storm warning is in effect for a swath of the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border.

Sessions says speech ‘under attack’ on college campuses

Decrying what he sees as political correctness run amok on college campuses, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday the Justice Department will ramp up its support for students who sue universities claiming their free-speech rights have been violated.

The complexity of the free-speech issue was on display as Sessions spoke to an invitation-only crowd at Georgetown University’s law school. About 200 protesters gathered outside in university-designated “free speech zones” and some students complained they were excluded from the Sessions event. But even as he lamented what he sees as a lack of tolerance for unpopular views on campus, Sessions condemned the NFL players who have been exercising their own freedom of expression by kneeling silently during the national anthem before games.

“These players, with all the assets they have, can express their political views without in effect denigrating the symbols of our nation, a nation that has provided our freedom to speak,” Sessions said during a question-and-answer period.

In declaring free speech “under attack” on college campuses, Sessions dove into an issue that has become a cause celebre for conservatives who argue their voices are being drowned out on college campuses, with speeches by right-wing figures derailed by protests and threats of violence.

Demonstrations erupted this week at the University of California, Berkeley, around a planned four-day conservative event dubbed Free Speech Week, which was suddenly canceled. Sessions blamed administrators, saying they “coddle and encourage” by caving to protesters’ demands.

“The American university was once the center of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”

As Sessions spoke, the Justice Department announced it would throw its support behind a student who sued Georgia Gwinnett College, arguing his rights were violated when administrators limited where he could preach Christianity on campus.

The crowd of invited students, staff and Justice Department employees was mostly friendly. But in at least one row, students sat silently in black with duct tape over their mouths.

“We respect your views no matter what they are,” Sessions said in comments directed at protesters outside. “We will defend your views and the right to express them in appropriate and effective ways. We celebrate the diversity of opinion.”

Sessions hasn’t always been a vocal supporter of free expression. As an Alabama senator in 2006, he spoke out against flag burning, which the Supreme Court has ruled is free speech. He spoke then about the need for reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech.

“In my view, the flag of the United States is a unique object, and prohibiting its desecration will not in any fundamental way alter the free expression of ideas in this country,” he said at the time, in support of proposed constitutional amendment outlawing the practice.

Ambur Smith, 24, a third-year law student who was protesting outside, said holding a speech about free expression but limiting the audience was “hypocritical.”

“He should be accountable to everyone in this country, let alone on this campus,” she said. “It’s a blatant contradiction of what it’s supposed to be about.”

But law professor Randy Barnett, who organized the event at the Justice Department’s request, said he invited certain students from his classes because he was looking for an audience that would be civil, not sympathetic.

“We did not screen people for political views,” he later told reporters, adding that the speech was livestreamed so more people could listen. “If they wanted to do more than listen and if they actually wanted to disrupt the event, then they were not provided with that opportunity.”

Yellen: Fed is perplexed by chronically low inflation

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged Tuesday that the Fed is puzzled by the persistence of unusually low inflation and that it might have to adjust the timing of its interest rate policies accordingly.

Speaking to a conference of economists, Yellen touched upon key questions the Fed is confronting as it tries to determine why inflation has remained chronically below its target of 2 percent annually. The Fed chair said officials still expect the forces keeping inflation low to fade eventually. But she conceded that the Fed may need to adjust its assumptions.

In noting the persistence of low inflation, Yellen suggested that the Fed will take care not to raise rates too quickly. But she also said the central bank should avoid raising rates too slowly. Moving too gradually, she suggested, might eventually force the Fed to have to accelerate rate hikes and thereby elevate the risk of a recession.

Most analysts expect the central bank to raise rates in December, for a third time this year, in a reflection of economic improvement. But the Fed has said its rate hikes will depend on incoming data.

In her speech in Cleveland to the annual conference of the National Association for Business Economics, Yellen went further than she has before in suggesting that the Fed could be mistaken in the assumptions it is making about inflation.

“My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation,” Yellen said.

The Fed seeks to control interest rates to promote maximum employment and stable prices, which it defines as annual price increases of 2 percent. While the Fed has met its goal on employment, with the jobless rate at 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low, it has continued to miss its inflation target.

Chronically low inflation can depress economic growth because consumers typically delay purchases when they think prices will stay the same or even decline.

Inflation, which was nearing the 2 percent goal at the start of the year, has since then fallen further behind and is now rising at an annual rate of just 1.4 percent.

Yellen has previously attributed the miss on inflation this year to temporary factors, including a price war among mobile phone companies. She and other Fed officials have predicted inflation would soon begin rising toward the Fed’s target, helped by tight labor markets that will drive up wage gains.

In her remarks Tuesday, Yellen said this outcome of a rebound in inflation is still likely. But she said the central bank needed to remain alert to the possibility that other forces not clearly understood might continue to keep inflation lower than the Fed’s 2 percent goal.

The Fed chair cautioned that if the central bank moved too slowly in raising rates, it could inadvertently allow the economy to become overheated and thus have to raise rates so quickly in the future that it could push the country into a recession.

“It would be imprudent to keep monetary policy on hold until inflation is back to 2 percent,” Yellen said.

During a question-and-answer session, Yellen said the Fed would be “looking at inflation very carefully” to determine the timing of upcoming rate hikes. But she said the data is likely to be difficult to assess, in part because of the effects of the recent devastating hurricanes, which have forced up gasoline prices.

Yellen’s remarks came a week after Fed officials left their benchmark rate unchanged but announced that they would start gradually shrinking their huge portfolio of Treasury and mortgage bonds. Those holdings had grown from purchases the Fed made over the past nine years to try to lower long-term borrowing rates and help the U.S. economy recover from the worst downturn since the 1930s.

The Fed did retain a forecast showing that officials expect to boost rates three times this year. So far, they have increased their benchmark lending rate twice, in March and June, leaving it at a still-low range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent.

Last week, the Fed said the reductions in its bond holdings would begin in October by initially allowing a modest $10 billion in maturing bonds to roll off the $4.5 trillion balance sheet each month.

Asked about how long-term loan rates might respond to reductions in the Fed’s bond portfolio, Yellen cited a study that estimated that the increase in its bond holdings had lowered such rates by about 1 percentage point.

But she said the reduction in the holdings wouldn’t likely raise rates by as much as a percentage point given that the Fed intended to keep the size of its balance sheet significantly higher than it was before the financial crisis. She said any upward pressure on rates would likely be gradual and take place over several years.

Later Thursday, Yellen toured a job training center operated by Cuyahoga Community College and participated in a roundtable with students, faculty and potential employers.

Yellen, who has visited a number of job centers during her time as Fed chair, told the group that job training was especially important now as employers find it harder in a tight labor market to find workers with the necessary skills.

The Latest: More US ships, troops heading to Puerto Rico

The Latest on President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

The Trump administration is sending additional resources to Puerto Rico to step up the federal response to Hurricane Maria, including a flotilla of ships and thousands more military personnel.

Speaking Tuesday outside the White House, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long says the devastation wrought by the storm presents unique logistical challenges for the federal response. He says demolished airports and seaports have made it difficult to get aid and personnel to the stricken island.

Long says 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships are now in the waters around Puerto Rico, with another 10 ships on the way. They include the USS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. Planes and ships are also bringing in a military force to help distribute aid.

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3:10 p.m.

The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of for debris removal and other emergency assistance provided to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

President Donald Trump made the change Tuesday as part of an amendment to his earlier disaster declaration authorizing federal aid in response to the Category 4 storm. U.S. states and territories typically cover 25 percent of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent.

Puerto Rican officials and sympathetic members of Congress had called on Trump to relieve the island’s cash-strapped government of the cost-sharing requirement.

Trump’s declaration covers costs for removing downed trees, utility poles and other debris, as well as spending for emergency protective measures taken to save lives, protect public health and ensure public safety.

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2:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he was not preoccupied with his fight with the NFL over the weekend at the expense of storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Trump was asked Tuesday about criticism that he was paying too much attention to the fight over football players kneeling during the national anthem. He says he has “plenty of time” on his hands, adding that all he does is work. Speaking out against the protests, he said, amounts to “respect for our country” and is part of his job.

Trump has come under criticism that his administration responded too slowly to the growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria knocked out power to virtually the entire island. He said he is visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday.

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2:10 p.m.

President Donald Trump is sending “America’s hearts and prayers” to people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and says he’ll visit both places next week.

Trump said Tuesday that a “massive” effort to help people recover from Hurricane Maria is underway. He added that includes the military, though he did not give specifics.

Trump spoke in the White House Rose Garden after he received criticism from some U.S. lawmakers that the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria has fallen short of its efforts in Texas and Florida after storms there.

Maria roared ashore Sept. 20 and knocked out nearly all power in Puerto Rico, leaving its 3.4 million residents short of food, water and supplies.

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12:50 p.m.

A group of 10 Democratic senators has requested that Congress immediately take up legislation to help the residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The lawmakers say a supplemental spending bill is needed right away because of the devastation brought by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

They say the two U.S. territories need financial help to rebuild homes, provide temporary housing and repair vital infrastructure. Without it, they say the challenging road to recovery will only be prolonged.

The lawmakers are making the request as part of a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

They say, “as members of Congress, we have an obligation to ensure all citizens of the United States affected by natural disasters have sufficient resources to recover.”

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11:40 a.m.

Congressional Democrats say President Donald Trump is not acknowledging the gravity of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-NY, says she is concerned that Trump’s continued tweets about NFL players show he doesn’t grasp the severity of the crisis.

She warned Trump that, “If you don’t take this crisis seriously this is going to be your Katrina,” referring to criticism of President George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Velazquez also said she was “offended and insulted” by Trump’s tweet that Puerto Rico’s public debt contributed to the crisis.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY, called it “absolutely ridiculous” for Trump to mention debt “when people are suffering and dying. Here’s a president who’s used bankruptcy throughout his entire career.”

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11:11 a.m.

President Donald Trump says he’ll visit hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico next Tuesday.

Trump announced the visit after the administration came under criticism for its response to the damage on the island that is home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens. The island has been coping with shortages of food, drinking water, electricity and various forms of communication after Hurricane Maria struck earlier this month.

Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery operations.

He says he may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Trump says Puerto Rico is important to him. He says Puerto Ricans are “great people and we need to help them.”

 

(Sources that contributed to this story: Fox, CBS, Reuters, AP)

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