by Kevin Schmidt and Casey Egan
Medill News Service
WASHINGTON — Disgruntled House Democrats, led by House members of Puerto Rican descent, blasted the Trump administration’s response to hurricane relief Thursday morning, calling for a swift and robust response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“This is Katrina 2017,” Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez said at a news conference. His parents emigrated to the U.S. and when he was a teenager, the family moved back to Puerto Rico.
Gutierrez used President Donald Trump’s own rhetoric – when Trump said North Korea would see ”fire and fury” if it threatened the U.S. — to call for a significantly stronger response.
“I would like to see the fire and fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort of the people of Puerto Rico,” said Gutierrez. “I have not seen the fire and fury when it comes to delivery of food. The delivery of medicine. The delivery of petroleum. To the delivery of a rescue mission to save people’s lives — I haven’t seen it.”
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., a Puerto Rican native, called the administration’s relief effort in her U.S. territory “inexcusably slow and ineffective,” and called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to expedite approval of a relief package.
“This has to happen soon. Not weeks from now. Not in late October. This needs to be an immediate priority for Speaker Ryan and the Republican leadership,” said Velazquez.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats at the news conference echoed the urgency of Gutierrez and Velazquez.
Gutierrez represents Chicago, while Velazquez represents New York – two cities with large Puerto Rican populations.
Jose Lopez, executive director of The Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago, said that he was “very glad” that Gutierrez was do forceful in pushing for fast and substantial help for Puerto Rico because it reflects the overwhelming opinion of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.
“No one has made Puerto Rico a priority,” he said. “If you look at Harvey and Irma, all preparations were made much earlier, nothing was dealt with beforehand. This should have been dealt with as a major emergency.”
Raul Rossi, CEO of the New York City-based Puerto Rican nonprofit network Acacia, agreed with Velazquez that helping Puerto Rico should be a bipartisan priority.
“I don’t think you have to be on any political side to look across and say that this is wrong,” he said. “We are U.S. citizens. We knew this hurricane was coming, and we should have been prepared.”
Ryan addressed the relief package issue at his weekly press conference Thursday, pointing out that Puerto Rico will be among the recipients of Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds at the beginning of the next fiscal year, but cautioned that prior to Congress approving a relief funding package, a proper damage assessment must be done.
Ryan said he expects Trump to send a funding request in October and Congress to act quickly to approve it because “we need to get help to people who need it.”
Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico Tuesday. Gutierrez, however, will be traveling there Friday to assess the damage before the President’s arrival.
“The president says he’s doing a great job. He says everything is nice. Okay, I will go and see if everything is great and nice tomorrow,” the Illinois Democrat said. “I doubt it.”