Members of Congress Continue to Speak Out to Make Puerto Rico a Priority

The Puerto Rico humanitarian crisis remains a focal point for Congress in both the Senate and House of Representatives.  On Wednesday, October 4, various members came to the floor of the Senate or House to issue remarks, which are copied in their entirety below.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) 

Mr. President, I understand the administration intends to submit its first request for disaster aid for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands today. It is a good first step, but it is just the start of the financial aid we will need to provide to the American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I urge my colleagues to work quickly to add additional and urgent funding for recovery, like community development block grant dollars, just as we did for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, with the understanding that an additional and more comprehensive request for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and the western wildfires will be coming from the administration once the damage assessments are complete.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL):

Mr. Speaker, I have received a lot of calls in my office in the last few days. Some are offering help to the people of Puerto Rico, but many are from moms and dads hoping to hear from their children, from children hoping to hear from their moms and dads, from grandchildren worried about an elderly grandparent who is still in Puerto Rico. Two weeks after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, there are people who have not been heard from and people who are calling for help, but have not received it yet. I have had Members of Congress, State and local officials, and people from all over the country call me to tell me about someone who needs help getting out of Puerto Rico. Their mom is still in Puerto Rico, or a cousin is on dialysis and has not been heard from, and can I help them get to a hospital on the mainland. These calls are heartbreaking because they are all about U.S. citizens who should be treated better 2 weeks after a calamity, even a devastating calamity like Hurricane Maria.

Most of the calls have been from my constituents in Chicago. Here is one example that was summarized to me by one of my staff members in Chicago. She said: Congressman, I received a call from—I won’t give her name—she lives here in Illinois, but has an aunt who is in a hospital in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, who is very ill with cancer. She is requesting assistance from our office to get her aunt out of Puerto Rico so she can receive treatment in Chicago.

Mr. Speaker, if you take a look at my Facebook page, you will see the same sort of thing. Manny writes: The municipality of Arecibo, a coastal town in the northern part of Puerto Rico, has not received help. I spoke to my family there via text and she said the situation there is dire. Yanny writes: Please don’t forget Aibonito. The people there are hungry, thirsty, and there are many sick who need medicine. Thank you. I just spoke 10 minutes ago to Maria in Chicago. She said: Congressman, I haven’t heard from my parents in Cayey. Mr. Speaker, it is tragic. These messages break my heart. I don’t know what to tell people, except to say that help may be on the way soon. Of course, that is not good enough.

I have no explanation for why it is not already there. It certainly is not the fault of the brave men and women who work for FEMA and the Armed Forces. I spent a lot of time with them in Puerto Rico while I was there, and they are working hard. They are tired. They are facing the difficult task of finding and feeding people. From what I saw in Puerto Rico this last weekend, what I am hearing from my constituents, and what I am hearing from my family and friends, we need to seriously ramp up the use of full capacity and capabilities of the U.S. Government, including the U.S. military, to rescue people.

They don’t need paper towels tossed at them like T-shirts at a sports arena. They need helicopters, bridges, cell towers, and generators. This is why I was, frankly, horrified by our President’s performance yesterday on the island. He said that Puerto Rico was making his budget out of whack, as if the monetary cost of saving lives is what we should be focusing on, or that an agenda that cuts taxes is really as important as saving people’s lives in danger. From the beginning, he has focused on the cost of saving Puerto Ricans, not the moral duty to save them. He has essentially said that Puerto Ricans are sitting around looking for handouts and not helping themselves, which is not at all what I saw in Puerto Rico this past weekend, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, the President said we should all feel proud because only 16 people have been listed as officially killed by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Really? We should feel proud? He said that a real tragedy like Hurricane Katrina killed many more people. Thousands, he said. So I guess he is saying: Hey, only 16. Why the big fuss? That number doubled overnight, by the way. Everyone understands that it will go up further still when contact is made with all parts of the island. I look at it a little differently. To me, it is almost like Hurricane Maria posed a test to the United States of America and to our President. The hurricane said: I am going to take 34 souls. That is 34 too many, but that is what I am going to take. Now I am leaving it up to you, America, Mr. President, and you the people in Congress to tell me what you will do to prevent that number from going any higher. Are you getting medicine to the sick? Are you evacuating the aunt with cancer or the cousin on dialysis? Are you providing safe drinking water and flights to safety?

Mr. Speaker, I don’t think today’s body count is the right metric to look at, but, rather, we should be challenging ourselves to make sure it doesn’t go higher. The most serious event in Puerto Rico’s modern history may not qualify as a significant disaster to our President, but let us not sit back and allow the body count to change the President’s mind. We just can’t wait that long.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ):

Mr. Speaker, this weekend, as millions in Puerto Rico trudged through squalor and sewage in search of food, as hospitals ran low on power and medicine, as homes lay in ruins and businesses remained swamped under feet of water, our Commander in Chief went golfing. As our brothers and sisters on the island suffered, our President sank putts and hit drives. As the gross inadequacy of his administration’s response was revealed to a worldwide audience, the leader of the free world patted himself on the back. ‘‘We have done a great job with an almost impossible situation,’’ Trump tweeted. Mr. Speaker, Donald Trump has it backwards. He is not doing a great job despite an impossible situation; the Puerto Rican people are.

Yesterday, on a belated visit to the island, Trump could have apologized. He could have promised a vast expansion of the Federal relief effort to match the vast and growing needs of the Puerto Rican people. Instead, he offered only blame and condescension. ‘‘I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico,’’ he says, ‘‘but you are throwing our budget out of whack,’’ said Trump. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but our President is dead wrong. He is the one who is throwing our budget out of whack with his tax cuts for the rich. He is the one who is throwing our government out of whack with his early morning tweets and his childish temper tantrums. He is the one who is throwing our country out of whack with attacks on immigrants and people of color and the disabled and veterans and Gold Star parents, and on and on, and now, most recently, on the courageous leaders of Puerto Rico and the people of Puerto Rico. Such poor leadership, he says, of the ability of the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure Donald Trump understands the meaning of the word ‘‘leadership,’’ especially in the wake of a natural disaster. Real leadership is about having the courage to do what is right and the compassion to do what is necessary to help others. It is about self-sacrifice, not self-promotion. It is about putting our country first and your own ego second. Instead, yesterday we were treated to the bizarre spectacle of the President of the United States throwing rolls of paper towels into a crowd. Despite the millions in Puerto Rico wanting for electricity or basic necessities, he called his administration’s response ‘‘unbelievable’’ and ‘‘incredible.’’ Donald Trump even had the gall to congratulate Puerto Rico on not losing hundreds of lives like in a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina. Frankly, it is hard to recall a more callous statement from an American leader in my lifetime.

Mr. Speaker, the outrageously poor response to the devastation in Puerto Rico is the best illustration yet that President Trump only cares about people who look like him or vote for him or make the kind of money that he makes. The American people, especially the 3.5 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, deserve a President who is capable of common human decency, a President more concerned about his conduct in office than his coverage in the media, a President who understands that his base is every single one of us. Mr. Speaker, I would like to close with a few words in Spanish for the brave people of Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rican people are stronger than Donald Trump thinks. And they will come out of this crisis and prosper again. We can’t wait any longer. We are with you.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):

Mr. Speaker, right now, 3.5 million Americans, our fellow citizens, are facing a humanitarian crisis. In Puerto Rico, the majority of people still lack basic electricity, clean drinking water, and medicine, the bare basic necessities just to stay alive—not to speak of the basic resources they need to begin the great task of rebuilding their lives and their communities. It has been days since the hurricane passed over Puerto Rico leaving death and destruction in its wake. The people of Puerto Rico are literally crying out for help. There are far too many, especially those in rural communities, who still have not been reached by those bringing aid. As a Representative from an island State in Hawaii, I can only imagine their frustration and desperation. I urge the administration to dedicate all available resources to helping the people of Puerto Rico. Work with Congress to pass an emergency aid package to ensure that those delivering aid have what they need to help the people of Puerto Rico and save lives.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY):

Mr. Chairman, a budget is a moral contract between elected officials—the government—and the people we were elected to represent. That is why I am proud to rise in support of the people’s budget, presented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This budget serves as a Progressive alternative to the GPO’s cruel budget plan, a plan that prioritizes tax breaks for billionaires over the need to fund care for seniors in nursing homes and children and struggling families in places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I was proud to help draft the people’s budget, which invests $200 billion to ensure that families in Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. territories have the immediate assistance they need right now. The people’s budget would also reduce the deficit by $700 billion over the next 20 years by investing in human capital. We would do this while enacting comprehensive immigration reform, protecting DREAMers, and ending funding for family detention centers. Mr. Chair, I encourage my colleagues to support the people’s budget and reject H. Con. Res. 71. Let’s stands with the working class, the middle class, and the immigrants in our country. This is the right thing to do for our people and for our economy.

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