Congress echoes Obama's call, offers key support to Haiti

Congressional leaders Wednesday followed President Barack Obama in promising the United States’s full support to relief efforts now under way in Haiti after a devastating earthquake racked the Caribbean nation.

Key members of Congress indicated that they would meet the president’s call for a full response from the U.S., including civilian rescue workers and rescue supplies.

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“I am pleased that President Obama has committed U.S. resources to help the people of Haiti rebuild their lives and their country,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “The Senate will work with the administration to make sure that we get the necessary assistance to Haiti.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) echoed Reid and summoned private donations to the recovery effort.

“While the U.S. is already sending federal aid and assets, I am confident that the generosity of the American people will be what it so regularly is in these tragedies,” McConnell said in a statement.

Leaders of two key Senate committees also pledged their help.

Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he plans to work closely with the administration on the recovery.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also gave the effort his backing. The Department of Homeland Security, which his panel oversees, operates the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he is working with local leaders to coordinate aid as well.

House Democratic and Republican leaders made gestures similar to those of their Senate counterparts’.

Obama said at the White House today that U.S. civilian rescue workers will travel to the poor island nation as early as Wednesday. The president also announced that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will coordinate the disaster relief effort.

But the effort will not be easy. Reports from the capital Port-au-Prince indicate that many hospitals and civic buildings have been completely leveled and that thousands of people have lost their lives. The nation’s already faltering infrastructure has compounded problems with the recovery efforts.

The head of the U.N. mission to Haiti — a would-be key player in the recovery effort — has also been reported killed and up to 100 U.N. aid workers have been said to be missing.

Many lawmakers, meanwhile, have urged their Haitian-American constituents to contact the State Department if they have not been able to contact family or friends there. Others have urged their constituents to donate to charities such as the Red Cross.

Calls for donations, though, come as the FBI has issued warnings about fraudulent solicitations for aid to Haiti.

The administration also spent much of the morning accounting for U.S. embassy personnel who may have been lost in the wreckage. Nearly all have been accounted for, but approximately eight have been reported wounded.

New York Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand (D), whose state contains one of the nation’s highest Haitian populations, called on the Obama administration to grant Haitian nationals in the U.S. temporary protected status (TPS) so that they are not made to return to their home country.

The Department of Homeland Security halted deportations to Haiti on Wednesday, but an official told The Hill that TPS remains “within the range of consideration."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who visited Haiti with the Congressional Black Caucus in 2008, called on African-Americans to lead grassroots aid to the country.

“This natural disaster in one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world is a heartbreaking setback that requires not only the United States, but the entire world, to rally to assist,” Norton said in a statement.

On the House floor today, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who heads the Foreign Relations Subcommittee of the Western Hemisphere, made a declaration of support to Haitians affected by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

"We want to tell the Haitian people that the United States of America [and] the U.S. Congress is there with you," Engel said in a floor speech.

Jordy Yager contributed to this report