House Democrats reopen investigation into Trump handling of hurricanes

House Democrats reopen investigation into Trump handling of hurricanes
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Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday relaunched an investigation into the Trump administration's response to hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017.

Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse poised to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid MORE (D-Md.) led the two dozen Democrats on the panel in writing to the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking documentation related to the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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"The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether any of our nation's disaster response laws need to be amended and improved — including with respect to long-term planning, advance contracting, real-time communications, intelligence-sharing and leadership structure," the lawmakers wrote.

Cummings laid out in each of the letters how Democrats sought information on the administration's hurricane response in late 2017 and through 2018, but were stonewalled by the GOP majority on the committee.

"As a result, the White House has never turned over a single piece of paper to the Committee over the past two years relating to its response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," Cummings wrote.

The Maryland Democrat gave the White House, HHS and FEMA a deadline of May 20 — two weeks from Monday — to comply with the committee’s document requests, which include communications about storm response and information on contract bidding for the recovery process.

“If you continue to withhold these documents from the Committee, the Committee may be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance,” he wrote.

Irma and Maria battered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017, leaving the territories without power and crippling infrastructure. A study commissioned by Puerto Rico officials later determined that nearly 3,000 people died on the island as a result of Hurricane Maria.

The administration has endured intense criticism for its handling of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, in particular. Trump has repeatedly defended his performance, giving it high marks and attacking island officials who criticized him.

The president on Monday blamed Democrats for delaying a disaster relief bill that has been stalled in Congress for months and suggested Puerto Rico "should be very happy" with the recovery assistance it has received thus far.

Trump has largely refused to cooperate with Democrats' oversight investigations into his administration, particularly as the party seeks to delve further into special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE's findings in the Russia investigation.