Pelosi rips Trump’s ‘heartbreaking’ warning to Puerto Rico

Pelosi rips Trump’s ‘heartbreaking’ warning to Puerto Rico
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went after President Trump on Thursday after he signaled he may pull emergency responders from Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

“It’s heartbreaking and it lacks knowledge ... about what the role is for FEMA and the others in time of natural disaster [and] what our responsibility is as the federal government to the people of our country,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. “And I remind [him] that the people of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are American citizens.

“[They] fight in our wars, die for our safety, for our security.”

Trump sparked a firestorm Thursday morning by suggesting on Twitter that Puerto Rico’s struggles are largely the fault of island officials for fiscal mismanagement and crumbling infrastructure. Trump then seemed to indicate he may pull federal relief workers, including those under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the island.

“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s remarks seemed a direct contradiction to the message coming from the top administration officials leading the recovery effort in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In numerous public statements, emergency responders have warned that the severity of the devastation means the relief and recovery effort will be a drawn-out process and have vowed to remain for the duration.

“We understand this has been a catastrophic event on the island of Puerto Rico. It’s going to take a long time to help people recover, and we’re in it for the long haul,” Jeffrey Buchanan, the three-star general who’s leading the military’s relief response, told reporters upon arriving in San Juan last month.

The backlash to Trump's tweet was immediate on Capitol Hill, with a chorus of Democrats joining Pelosi in condemning the president's message. Many of those critics are quick to note that Trump has not issued the same timeline concerns surrounding federal relief for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and the Gulf Coast in August, and Hurricane Irma, which battered Florida last month. They see a double standard, at best, and racism at worst.

“We made better progress in the three weeks after D-Day than we are making on Puerto Rico, and in Puerto Rico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no Germans shooting at us,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Thursday on the House floor.

The White House was quick to go into damage control, insisting the president does not intend to pull emergency responders from Puerto Rico.

“Our job in any disaster affected location is to help the community respond and recover from that disaster,” White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We continue to do so with the full force of the U.S. government and its resources in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and other affected areas."

“Successful recoveries do not last forever,” she added. “They should be as swift as possible to help people resume their normal lives.”

Pelosi emphasized that the relief effort should not be dictated by deadlines but by necessity.

“We’re all Americans, and we owe them what they need,” she said. “It’s not about a clock, it’s about what they need.”