The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and the Virgin Islands’ representative in Congress on Friday called for an “emergency” hearing on the Trump administration’s response to this month's deadly hurricanes.
In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), they asked for a hearing next week given that the full panel does not currently have any public activity scheduled.
“Urgent action by our Committee now could help accelerate the federal response to the devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and make a measurable and significant difference in the lives of American families there,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) wrote.
The Trump administration has faced criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria, which has wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico. The Virgin Islands is also recovering from both Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Critics argue that the Trump administration moved faster to help mainland communities in Texas and Florida affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an accusation denied by officials.
President Trump said Friday during a speech in Washington on his tax reform plan that sending aid to Puerto Rico is difficult because it is “surrounded by water.”
"This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said.
Trump also said that Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has also made the hurricane response more complicated.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort … will be funded," Trump said.
"We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe,” Trump added.
Cummings and Plaskett noted that former House Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia, led an investigation into the Bush administration’s response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as precedent.
“Oversight now also could help prevent a worsening of the human tragedy that is unfolding and could help ensure that the lessons our Committee identified from past federal responses are implemented by the Trump administration,” they wrote.
Two Oversight Committee hearings on cybersecurity and the use of canines for security purposes are currently scheduled next week, but both at the subcommittee level.
Gowdy said in a statement later Friday afternoon that Oversight Committee staff have been participating in regular briefings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about the response to recent hurricanes. He said that asking FEMA officials to testify before the committee would use up time that could be spent on directing disaster relief.
“Right now, FEMA needs to focus on their mission at hand – to ensure all communities impacted are receiving the assistance they desperately need. We will continue to monitor the Administration's response to these natural disasters. But for now, we don't want to do anything to disrupt the flow of aid to those in need by calling FEMA officials to testify before our Committee in the middle of their disaster relief effort,” Gowdy said.
An Oversight aide said that Gowdy has offered to do information-gathering phone calls with Cummings so that FEMA officials don’t have to travel to Washington.
—Updated at 5:50 p.m.