Book recalls Trump’s quip on pressing nuclear button: US ‘won’t be second’

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Former President Trump said many controversial things in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, but it was something he told then-Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló about nuclear war while touring storm damage that stunned Rosselló.

In a memoir due out Tuesday, Rosselló recounts Trump’s visit to the island to tour damage from the Category 5 storm that killed thousands of people and devastated the island’s infrastructure.

In an excerpt obtained exclusively by The Hill, Rosselló details a conversation with Trump during a helicopter tour.

“‘Nature has a way of coming back,’ Trump said. ‘Well, it does until it does not. Who knows with nuclear warfare what will happen…,’” Rosselló writes in “The Reformer’s Dilemma.”

“And then, he said the one thing that made me more concerned than anything else in the entire visit. ‘But I tell you what…’ He paused for effect. ‘If nuclear war happens, we won’t be second in line pressing the button.’ This statement floored me. I could not believe what I was hearing. It was surreal. Was he really talking about total annihilation as we flew over the ravaged sights of the island?” Rosselló wrote.

During Trump’s presidency, lawmakers and activists frequently raised concerns about the prospect that he might trigger a nuclear war. Those concerns were particularly heightened over his rhetoric toward North Korea, such as when he posted in 2018 that he had a “much bigger & more powerful” nuclear launch button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump has in recent years warned of the dangers of a nuclear war, citing the conflict in Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine and suggesting it could bring about the start of World War III.

The Trump campaign in a statement defended his foreign policy record and said the former president and presumptive GOP presidential nominee for November “abhors the idea of nuclear war.”

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the world was safer and more peaceful than any time in decades. President Trump abhors the idea of nuclear war,” campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to The Hill. “That’s why his historic diplomacy with North Korea stopped the regime’s nuclear tests and long range missile launches, which resumed after Biden took office.

“President Trump negotiated historic UN Security Council sanctions on Iran that left the regime weak and broke—until Biden enriched them,” he continued. “And it’s Joe Biden who is leading the world to the precipice of World War 3. President Trump’s top priority will be the safety and security of the American People. He is determined to return the world to peace.” ​​​​

Hurricane Maria was one of the early flash points of Trump’s term, as he visited the island to tour damage but also disparaged some local officials and cast doubt on an official death toll, while his administration was slow to deliver aid.

Trump frequently boasted about his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in the face of widespread criticism from Democrats and island officials about its lack of organization and urgency.

A study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government found that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm. The island adopted that as the official death toll, increasing it from 64.

Trump later claimed without evidence that the numbers were inflated to make him look bad.

One memorable moment from Trump’s 2017 visit to Puerto Rico came when the former president began flipping rolls of paper towels into a crowd as if he were shooting a basketball. Rosselló addressed that incident in his memoir.

“The image plastered in history was one that demonstrates disdain and repulsion for the people,” he wrote. “Was it dumb and incredibly thoughtless? Yes. The president should have known better. But that does not detract from the true story: The media narrative got carried away, which is happening more often than not in our political culture.”

During his time as governor, Rosselló visited Washington often and helped steer the island’s reconstruction after hurricanes Irma and Maria, its bankruptcy process and a tumultuous relationship with Trump. He resigned in 2019 amid protests.

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