Accusing President Trump of neglecting storm victims in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, House Democrats on Thursday pressed both the administration and congressional Republicans to step up their response to Hurricane Maria.
The lawmakers charge that Trump is applying a double standard when it comes to storm relief, saying his response to Hurricane Maria lacks the urgency that followed Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit Texas and Florida in recent months.
“I want to see the fire and the fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) told reporters in the Capitol.
“I have not seen the fire and fury.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), characterizing the devastation from Maria as “almost biblical in its proportions,” also said the response has been too slow.
“We can’t make them whole right this minute, but we can give them hope immediately, and that is what we must do,” Pelosi said, rattling off a long list of essentials the government needs to be providing in greater volume, including doctors, medical supplies, helicopters, water, food and electric generators.
“They need it yesterday,” Pelosi said. “We must move more quickly.”
Although residents of both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are American citizens, the Democrats contend they’re being treated like something much less.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the number of people still without power in Puerto Rico is equal to the population of Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska combined.
“I have no doubt that the responses to those states in this situation would be far different than the situation we’re having today,” she said. “It’s tantamount to mother nature’s atomic bomb, and we’re doing very little.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, delivered a similar warning.
“They’re as much America as Maryland, as Texas, as Florida,” he said. “And we need to treat them the same.”
The Democrats are not alone in pressing for more urgency from Trump. On Thursday, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the president urging the administration to expand the involvement of the Pentagon.
“The logistical chain in Puerto Rico isn’t just broken, at this point it is virtually non-existent,” Rubio wrote. “Unless [the Department of Defense] steps in quickly to establish emergency logistical assistance, it is my fear this situation will deteriorate rapidly.”
The administration has defended its response to Maria, which struck the Caribbean last week as a Category 5 storm. Officials deny that the territories are being treated differently than states and blame the media for creating the false impression that relief has been slow to arrive.
"I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we aren't moving fast enough," Tom Bossert, White House homeland security adviser, told reporters Thursday. “The people of Puerto Rico have every bit of support from President Trump that he gave to the citizens of every other state in this country.”
Trump, however, helped fuel the criticisms earlier in the week when he said Maria victims have been tougher to help because they’re “on an island in the middle of the ocean.”
That explanation didn’t fly with Democrats.
“We don’t need second-grade geography lessons,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.). “We need solutions.”
The Democrats are calling on Trump to tap more military resources to meet the immediate needs of the Maria victims scrambling to secure food, water, fuel and medical supplies even eight days after the storm.
“This is a real human crisis and we need an immediate federal military response,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). “United States citizens’ lives are on the line, and we need to respond [with] just that kind of urgency.
“It is just like a war.”
Gutiérrez noted that, for decades, the U.S. Navy tested munitions on Vieques, a small island off of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. If Trump is having logistical problems, he should simply “ask the generals.”
“You know where it’s at,” Gutierrez said. “You found it very well, the United States, when it was time to practice bombing.”
The Democrats are also urging Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders to waste no time taking up another supplemental spending bill to provide emergency help to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as Congress did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“This has to happen soon. Not weeks from now. Not in late October,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.). “This needs to be an immediate priority for Speaker Ryan and the Republican leadership.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed Thursday that Congress will act “to make sure that whatever they need will get there.” And Ryan offered a similar promise, saying he’s waiting only for officials to assess the damage and estimate the federal help required.
“We will quickly act on that request,” he said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló offered some updates on the situation Thursday. He said 44 of the region’s 69 hospitals are operational, while 4 million liters of potable water had been imported, with another 7.6 million liters expected. But many areas remain inaccessible, and he stressed the need for more help.
“We've asked the DOD to send some special troops over here, specifically for transportation, fuel deployment, food deployment, medical help, engineering, and so forth,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “We welcome more help.”
Unlike Capitol Hill’s Democrats, Rosselló has had nothing but praise for Trump’s response. On Tuesday, he told The Hill the president is “doing everything on his end,” and he amplified that message Thursday on MSNBC.
“I can say that the president has been very diligent,” Rosselló said. “He has been essentially talking to us every day.”
Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) downplayed any disconnect between the seemingly contradictory messages. Rosselló, he said, is simply being careful not to ruffle the president at the same time he’s asking him for help.
“I didn’t expect the governor to be attacking the federal government,” Serrano said, “because that serves him no purpose at all.”