National Guard leaders says he's seen no delay in federal help to Puerto Rico

National Guard leaders says he's seen no delay in federal help to Puerto Rico
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U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS — The head of the National Guard on Tuesday said there has been no delay in federal help to Puerto Rico despite claims from lawmakers that the territory was not receiving adequate help.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel said he has not seen any political posturing that would deny or slow aid to the U.S. territory, which has been hit by two powerful Category 5 storms in the past month that killed at least 16 people and knocked out power on the entire island.

Puerto Rico’s nearly 3.5 million residents are now living without electricity, and Lengyel expects it will be “more than a month” until electricity is fully restored. 

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“We want to make sure they have everything they need. We’re very in touch with the folks in Puerto Rico,” Lengyel told reporters on a flight back from St. Croix. He traveled to the island Monday to meet with government officials and assess the damage.

“The National Guard Puerto Rico, we have the capacity to send them if they need them,” he said.

Several lawmakers, however, believe the federal government isn’t working fast enough or sending enough resources to help the stricken island.

“The Trump administration’s response to the destruction in Puerto Rico has been wholly inadequate,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithCongress, cut the continuing resolutions so Defense can do its job Week ahead: Lawmakers look to break deadlock on defense funding Pentagon eyeing West Coast missile defense sites: report MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement Monday.

“A territory of 3.5 million American citizens is almost completely without power, water, food, and telephone service, and we have a handful of helicopters involved in [Defense Department’s] response," he said. "It’s a disgrace. At a minimum, President Trump needs to assemble a coordinated military effort headed by a three-star general officer, as President Bush did after Hurricane Katrina.”

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, said in a Monday interview President Trump “has not said one word” about Puerto Rico’s residents, nor American citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I’m not sure he knows that Puerto Ricans are American citizens,” she told The Washington Post.

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier on Monday urged the Pentagon to send more personnel and troops to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands, saying that they “deserve to know that their government will be there for them, without question or hesitation.”

In response, President Trump wrote on Twitter later in the day that Puerto Rico’s outdated infrastructure and large debt complicate recovery efforts.

Trump claimed that Puerto Rico is “doing well” receiving necessary aid including food, water and medical assistance.

When asked if he’s seen any slowing of resources sent to the island, Lengyel replied “I wouldn’t say I’ve seen any of that.”

“The process that we’ve seen as responders with [Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long], the White House, all of it has been exactly the same from Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria,” he said.

Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana in late August.

Lengyel added that restoration on the islands is hindered by the presence of significantly fewer forces than in the continental United States, with additional troops who must be flown in instead of driven.

Puerto Rico has only 1,375 Guard troops to help on an island with a population of nearly 3.5 million.

About 1,200 troops are in the Virgin Islands.

Lengyel told reporters another 1,000 to 1,500 troops are expected to be in the Virgin Islands in the coming days, but he has yet to assess numbers for Puerto Rico.

He said he will know more after a trip to Puerto Rico scheduled for Wednesday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, meanwhile, is urging Congress to pass an aid package for the island.

“We need more help. We need more help with resources. We need more help with people being deployed so that we can get logistical support elsewhere,” Rosselló told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”