President Trump once joked about trading Puerto Rico for Greenland: report

Trump has had a rocky relationship with Puerto Rico, and he appears to find the idea of getting rid of it appealing

By Shira Tarlo
August 22, 2019 4:27PM (UTC)
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US President Donald Trump smiles during a phone conversation with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 27, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

In the months before President Donald Trump expressed interest in purchasing Greenland, he reportedly joked in a meeting with aides about trading Puerto Rico for the semi-autonomous Danish island, which is not for sale.

Trump has had a tumultuous relationship with Puerto Rico's leadership, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which tore through the U.S. territory in September 2017 and killed thousands of people and left more without power — all amid a decade-long financial crisis.


The president has previously called Puerto Rican officials "incompetent and corrupt" and opposed sending additional federal aid to the territory after Hurricane Maria. He also claimed, without evidence, that Puerto Rico's government was using disaster relief money to pay off debts.

Earlier this year, White House press secretary Hogan Gidley twice referred to Puerto Rico as "that country" in a televised interview, in which he defended a series of disparaging remarks Trump made about the island.

Given his rocky relationship with Puerto Rico's leadership, it is likely the notion of trading it for Greenland appealed the former real estate developer, who likened the proposed acquisition to a "large real estate deal."


Trump's play for Greenland was swiftly squashed, however, as Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the idea of selling the territory "absurd" and declared it is "not for sale."

He thanked Frederiksen on Tuesday for being "so direct," because it saved "a great deal of expense and effort" only to change his tone a day later amid a global laughing fit.

"It was nasty," Trump said of the prime minister's statement. "I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to do is say, 'No, we wouldn't be interested.'"


He then made clear that he interpreted the prime minister's response as a personal affront to the U.S.

"She's not talking to me. She's talking to the United States of America," he said. "You don't talk to the United States that way, at least under me."


The president later took to Twitter to further assail the longtime U.S. ally over its contributions to NATO's military budget. He then took aim at NATO as a whole for not spending enough on the military.

"For the record, Denmark is only at 1.35% of GDP for NATO spending. They are a wealthy country and should be at 2%," he wrote, referring to the goal set by the alliance for members to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. "We protect Europe and yet, only 8 of the 28 NATO countries are at the 2% mark."

Trump also canceled his scheduled trip to Denmark next month, even though he initially said the planned trip was unrelated to his interest in purchasing Greenland. In cancelling the trip, however, Trump noted it was scrapped for that exact reason.


Frederiksen decided not to fire back.

"I'm not going to enter a war of words with anybody, nor with the American president," she said on Danish television, adding that she found the Danish response to the cancellation of Trump's visit "good and wise."

It fell to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to downplay Trump's explosive rhetoric and take up damage control duty. He called Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod on Wednesday to express "appreciation for Denmark's cooperation as one of the United States' allies," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.


"Appreciate frank, friendly and constructive talk with @SecPompeo this evening, affirming strong US-DK bond," Kofod wrote on Twitter. "US & Denmark are close friends and allies with long history of active engagement across globe. Agreed to stay in touch on full range of issues of mutual interest."

Shira Tarlo

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