Lin-Manuel Miranda to Trump: 'We still need your help' in Puerto Rico

Lin-Manuel Miranda wants President Trump to make up for a "lost weekend" delaying disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico. 

The "Hamilton" playwright and actor headlined the Unity March for Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Miranda told The Hill in an interview the rally's core message to Trump is, "we still need your help."

"The message is that we're here and Puerto Rico is still — half of the island is still without power — and we still need your help," Miranda said, directing his message to Trump.

Miranda, whose parents are Puerto Rican, has been sharply critical of the Trump administration's disaster response.

In the immediate aftermath of Maria, Miranda tweeted that the president was "going straight to hell."

Miranda said that tweet, and three others that followed, were out of character for his online self.

 

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"I think it made news because normally I'm tweeting about puppies and rainbows and showtunes. That's most of my Twitter feed, and I'm proud of that. I'm proud to be a corner of the internet where outrage is not the default mode. There's plenty of things to be outraged about," he said.

"I've never seen a leader in the face of natural disaster say that the victims of a natural disaster weren't doing enough for themselves. I just, that's unprecedented to me. So my language in the face of that was also unprecedented for me," Miranda added.

Responding to criticism of his administration’s response to the island disaster, Trump slammed “poor leadership” in Puerto Rico.

"They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he tweeted in late September.

Miranda said Trump's response lagged from the start.

"The day Hurricane Maria made landfall, our president tweeted, 'good luck, Governor Rosselló.' And then he didn't tweet for another week," said Miranda.

"Let's begin with rhetoric. When the first two hurricanes hit, the message from the White House was, 'we'll do anything to help, we'll be there right away, anything you need, anything you need, Texas, anything you need, Florida, anything you need,' " he continued.

"[But] there was a week of terrifying radio silence for all of us who didn't live in Puerto Rico, didn't hear from our families, there was no cell service, there was no electricity. And then we didn't get a tweet for a week. So what does that say about the priorities of this administration when it comes to Puerto Rico?" he asked.

"We got a lot of tweets [from Trump] about the NFL that week — that weekend," he added. "It's part of the notion that this wasn't prepared for, this wasn't prioritized. So we're still making up for that lost weekend."

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, shortly after the island was side-swiped by Hurricane Irma. Maria's winds and rain all but knocked out the entirety of Puerto Rico's electrical grid, leaving the island in the dark and disconnected for nearly a week. Two months later, power generation is still hovering around 50 percent of its original yield.

Puerto Rico's territorial status — a matter of controversy well before the island was hit by hurricanes Maria and Irma — has been blamed for part of the difficulties in getting aid to the most remote and hardest-hit communities.

For Miranda, that's been especially latent in perceptions about the U.S. government's role in Puerto Rico disaster relief.

"What's frustrating of course, is the fact that we even need to remind our fellow Americans the fact that Puerto Ricans are their fellow Americans. I get tweeted at me, 'it's a territory, it's not a priority like the mainland.' I mean, I get that tweet all the time," he said.

But along with those attitudes and the administration's heavily criticized disaster response has come a strong showing of solidarity from various civil society groups and individuals.

"Well, it's been incredible, hasn't it? I mean I think there is this, it's this, been a very strange time because you also see heroes emerge. I count chef José Andrés among them," said Miranda. Andrés, a well-known chef who was also at the Unity March, spent a month cooking free meals for Puerto Ricans.

"We've raised over $20 million for the Hispanic Federation, and that is in over 150,000 small donations," he added.

"We have had donations from all 50 states, 23 countries, and that speaks to me a lot. And moves me and it humbles me and it tells me that there's nothing wrong with the generosity of the American people and the people of the world," he continued.

Miranda said the Unity March hopes to highlight the importance of helping American citizens suffering in Puerto Rico, but also to shine a light on specific policy changes that can help speed the recovery and strengthen the island's economy.

"There's several things that need to happen as we go from humanitarian relief, which is still an ongoing thing, still very pressing thing, to long-term rebuilding," he said.

"One is the forgiveness of the debt of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans don't have it. They just don't have it!" he said. "And to continue to try to extract it whether through austerity or other means, is at this point economic punishment for a people already suffering."

Puerto Rico was saddled with more than $72 billion in debt before being hit by the hurricanes. That led to Congress passing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which entrusted the island's finances to a Fiscal Control Board.

Trump in October suggested his administration would clear the island's debts following the disaster, but officials later walked back the idea of a bailout.

"Two, repeal of the Jones Act, which is a 70-year-old law that got waived for 10 days, but there's still aid coming to the island and that's still going to be an impediment to aid as long as that act exists," Miranda continued.

The Jones Act is a maritime regulation passed in 1920 to help protect shipping, which prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from calling on two consecutive American ports. In the case of Puerto Rico, it's been criticized as limiting relief that could be sent from the mainland to the island on foreign ships.

"And three, reminder that we're American citizens. And as a result of this hurricane and natural disaster, Puerto Ricans are coming to the mainland en masse," Miranda said.

"This is also your newest voter bloc," he warned lawmakers. "This is also the newest wave of voters that you have. And a reminder of that and to do right by those people who have come here is not just the right thing to do and the human thing to do, it's good politics."

Puerto Rico's weak economy expelled nearly 10 percent of the island's population to the mainland over the past decade. States like Florida have seen their political realities shift drastically as Puerto Ricans register as voters.

But Miranda said his challenge is not to win a rhetorical discussion, but to keep people engaged in the face of potential disaster fatigue.

"There are no shortage of things to be concerned about in the news, no shortage of things to make you mad, or to make you galvanized, and I see it as our job, those of us out here in the diaspora, to keep Puerto Rico in the conversation," said Miranda.

And Miranda believes the popular response can set the tone for the government.

"We need the government to step up to where we already are in our hearts," he said.