Puerto Rico governor says using disaster relief to fund border wall would be ‘terrible mistake’

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Wednesday criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE over reports that the White House was considering using disaster recovery money to fund the border wall, saying such a move would be a “terrible mistake.”

“There [were] sources that said that the White House was thinking about using recovery funding to build the wall, I think that would be a terrible mistake and a terrible decision,” Rosselló, a centrist Democrat, told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on “Rising.”

“You cannot justify using money that’s there to rebuild the lives of U.S. citizens to build a wall and I have asked the president to show clarity on this position,” he continued.

Rosselló added that while he hopes Trump won’t move in that direction, local officials are prepared to put up a fight if the president does decide to go down that road.

“We’ve been studying the process — the legality of it — and we’re going to give the fight because these resources are for the people of Puerto Rico,” the governor said.

He added that the federal aid belongs to the people of Puerto Rico, who are still recovering from Hurricane Maria that devastated the island in 2017.

Trump has long advocated for building a wall along the border with Mexico.

The New York Times reported in January that the president looked into possibly diverting emergency relief from Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California in order to build a physical barrier. 

The plan included directing the Army Corps of Engineers to look into supplemental funding to see what could be used for a border wall in case of a national emergency declaration. Trump has repeatedly threatened to declare a national emergency if he doesn’t receive $5.7 billion in funding for the wall. 

Some senior administration officials, however, questioned the legality of using Army Corps funding, saying the money is protected under The Stafford Act, which governs disaster relief.

Well over a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover. The hurricane caused billions in damage and claimed more than 3,000 lives. 

Rosselló said that the Trump administration's overall response to the hurricane has been a “mixed bag.”

While he said Puerto Rico officials have been working closely with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to rebuild its battered housing and infrastructure, he said recovery efforts have been hampered due to the slow distribution of federal aid.

Rosselló said Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds are generally disbursed to individual states, but he said federal agency has taken charge and created “unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles” in Puerto Rico's case

“On the FEMA side, we’ve been layered with unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, we haven’t gotten a lot of response for why that is and it has slowed down the recovery process,” Rosselló told Hill.TV.

The governor also pointed to the funding issues as a reason why Puerto Rico should become a state. 

“Every day that it doesn’t happen, it’s day where our U.S. citizens get a fourth of the funding for health care,” he said. “It’s a day where poverty rates in Puerto Rico and the poverty gap are increasing.”

The head of Puerto Rico's Statehood Commission, Charles Rodríguez, told The Hill on Sunday that proponents will soon introduce a measure in Congress to advance statehood.

 —Tess Bonn