A group of Democratic lawmakers is urging Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE to send additional military resources to Puerto Rico after back-to-back hurricanes created “harrowing conditions” on the U.S. territory.
The lawmakers said they appreciate the Pentagon’s current contributions to disaster relief on the island following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but they “remain deeply concerned” by reports of flooding, and a lack of power and running water on the island.
“[We] urge you – in coordination with the Governor of Puerto Rico, [Federal Emergency Management Agency] FEMA and other federal and local government partners – to rapidly deploy additional assets and resources to the island to assist in meeting the urgent needs of the 3.4 million American citizens living there,” Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Darren Soto (Fla.) and José Serrano (N.Y.) wrote in a Tuesday letter.
The Pentagon has already deployed Joint Task Force Leeward Islands to Puerto Rico to assist with water purification, medical evacuations, damage assessments and other tasks. In addition, the National Guard has about 1,375 troops on the island to help in restoration efforts.
Even with the already deployed aide, the island’s more than 3.4 million residents “are enduring severe shortages of basic necessities, including gasoline, food and water,” as well as loss of power across the territory, the lawmakers write.
“At the same time, FEMA’s resources have been strained by the impact of three significant hurricanes in a matter of weeks” and Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has called for extra Defense Department helicopters to “address the island’s mounting transportation and policing challenges.”
“We urge you Department to deploy additional resources to meet this request and other outstanding needs on the island,” he said.
In addition, the lawmakers want the Pentagon to designate a three-star general officer to coordinate military aide and restoration efforts in the Caribbean, similar to the official appointed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The letter comes as Democrats on Tuesday further criticized President Trump over failing to adequately address the mounting crisis in Puerto Rico. Lawmakers said the administration’s “anemic” response to devastation after Hurricanes Maria and Irma puts thousands of U.S. residents at risk.