Elaine Duke, who was acting secretary of Homeland Security for a little over four months in 2017 has become the latest White House official to speak up against her former boss. In an interview with the New York Times, Duke says a lot of things we’ve come to expect from those who have gotten a front-seat view of how President Donald Trump’s White House operates. But one little detail jumps out and manages to show that there is still a margin to be shocked by the president. Apparently, Trump suggested that maybe the United States could consider selling Puerto Rico. That happened shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in the late summer of 2017.
Duke was already feeling frustrated before the hurricane even caused any devastation as she argued that there should be an emergency declaration before landfall. “Quit being so emotional, Elaine, it’s not about the people, it’s about the money,” Duke claims that Mick Mulvaney, who was then the president’s budget director, said. Mulvaney, who went on to become acting chief of staff , vehemently denies that was the case. But Duke said she got the biggest shock during the response when she heard Trump raising the possibility of getting rid of Puerto Rico entirely. “The president’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman, you know,” she said. “Can we outsource the electricity? Can we can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?” The idea wasn’t ever seriously considered.
This wasn’t the first time that there were reports that Trump had raised the possibility of getting rid of Puerto Rico, albeit jokingly. Last year, the New York Times reported that a former official said Trump had joked about trading Puerto Rico for Greenland sometime in 2018.
Duke, who became acting secretary on July 31, 2017, when John F. Kelly became White House chief of staff, said Trump is a fan of “hate-filled, angry, and divisive” language and doesn’t really care about policy. “We get distracted by slogans, by maybe words we heard like the president allegedly saying ‘Haiti is a shithole,’” Duke said. “So we get only spun up in that, and then we never get to the issue.”