Members of Congress continued to express their support for Puerto Rico on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives last Thursday.
On the Senate floor, remarks were heard from: Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Senator Bryan Schatz (D-HI).
A number of Representatives also voiced concerns about the situation in Puerto Rico on the House floor: Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ).
Their remarks are copied in full below:
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):
Madam President, the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have been hit especially hard by powerful hurricanes. As I said earlier this week, the Senate will continue to work with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and the rest of the administration to help in the recovery, just as we have in Texas, Florida, and across the Southeast. We are eager to hear more soon about what additional resources will be necessary. The American people are stepping up, too, just as they always do, and so are the brave men and women of our military.
This week, 70 soldiers and 8 aircraft from Kentucky’s own 101st Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade deployed from Fort Campbell to Puerto Rico to support hurricane relief operations. These soldiers will join the larger joint force effort, which includes elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, medical support teams, medevac aircraft, and elements from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Kentucky is similarly proud of the men and women of its Air and Army National Guard who have worked to provide relief in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, as well as in Texas where, according to recent reports, their efforts helped save more than 300 lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
We are all proud of their efforts, but we should not forget that disasters of these proportions typically require a response from nearly every arm of the Federal Government. The FAA plays a critical role as well. As we all know, the FAA’s authority to collect and spend money from the aviation trust fund is set to expire on September 30, this week. These are the resources that fund repairs and replacement parts for our air traffic control system. Even absent a crisis, it would be irresponsible to let this lapse. We have read in recent days that air traffic in and out of Puerto Rico has already been limited because of damage done to radar, navigational aids, and other equipment. The Governor of Puerto Rico reports that air traffic control capacity is only at about 20 percent of normal.
This critical air safety equipment needs repair. The FAA reports that failure to act on the reauthorization would leave them without sufficient funding in the accounts necessary for replacement parts, equipment, and supplies. They would have only enough funding to cover salary costs for these workers for about 1 week. These American territories are suffering. What they need right now is aid and assistance from the air, not a manufactured crisis from Washington on top of everything else.
The House of Representatives will soon pass legislation that reauthorizes the FAA. It will help open up the air space to that aid so that it can get to where it is needed most. The House bill goes further by authorizing tax relief for individuals and businesses affected by the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and Texas and Florida, as well, because these disaster victims should not suffer a tax bill on top of their losses. We need to pass that legislation here in the Senate without further delay.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX):
Mr. President, it has been quite a few weeks now since Harvey hit and, then, Irma. Now Maria has devastated the island of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Of course, my gaze has been firmly on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey back in my home State of Texas. Yet we are joined together with those who suffered under Irma and Maria, and we will remain steadfastly with them as we all work to recover from these terrible hurricanes. Last week, I rode in a Black Hawk helicopter with Russ Poppe, as well as our Adjutant General, John Nichols. Mr. Poppe is executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District. We were able to survey in the air things I had seen up close during several trips back home, the wreckage of the land and livelihoods.
It is an emotional thing for families and homeowners to basically take all of their worldly possessions out to the front of their house and put it in the front yard because it is completely ruined as a result of the water, along with things like the drywall, trying to attack the mold before it grows and makes the house uninhabitable. We saw from about 10,000 feet in the air what we had previously seen from the ground, but from the air, you definitely get a different perspective on the waterlogged landscape. You see so much more. You see the levees, the reservoirs, the areas hit. You see the damaged goods and drywall that people have taken out of their homes as the first step toward recovery. It definitely has an impression on you, particularly with the size and scale of the affected area. It is really hard to believe until you see it from that perspective.
So when I took off my headset and sunglasses—and by the way, Speaker Paul Ryan joined us on that particular trip, and we all appreciate his being there. When we stepped off the chopper, what I thought about was not only what we have done so far but how much further we still had to go. It is not just about building materials, street and roof repairs, or even the temporary housing that people need, although all of those things are surely important. We need to remember that the remedies are not going to be one-size-fits-all. We need broad support, but we also need targeted and narrow support to help people get back on their feet. We need to keep each family in mind and what their own particular needs may be depending on their particular circumstances.
As I started out to say, it is not just Texas we are talking about anymore; it is Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands too. We all remember that those places were hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria right after Texas was hit by Harvey. I want to make one thing clear, though: We in Texas stand together with our fellow Americans who suffered from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, as well as those who suffered from other natural disasters occurring in and around our country, and we will do everything we can to help the people who were harmed and damaged, even devastated by these terrible storms. We will help them fight to get back on their feet, to recover, and to return their lives to some form of normalcy.
One way we can work together and deliver relief to different people in different geographic areas is in providing temporary tax relief. Now, I know this sounds kind of like a small thing to do, but if you think about it, this is a thousand-year storm. Hurricane Harvey dropped 34 trillion gallons of water on the same area over a period of about 5 or so days. Many people were not in the hundred-year floodplain, which is typically where you would buy flood insurance, so many people suffered losses that were not covered by flood insurance. What many of these folks will have to do is dip into their retirement savings and other savings in order to help to get life back to normal. This relief will help folks get back on their feet as they rebuild their homes and businesses and neighborhoods in the wake of these hurricanes.
We recently passed—earlier this afternoon—a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, but it also included the tax package I am talking about now that provides this targeted relief. These provisions will help hurricane victims in all of the devastated areas keep more of their paycheck, first and foremost, but be able to deduct the cost of their property damage on their tax return and encourage even more Americans to generously donate to hurricane relief to help their neighbors and employees. I know this tax package is a small matter. It is not a panacea and certainly not a cure-all, and it is not supposed to fix every storm-related problem or absolve us from honoring our ongoing responsibilities in the days ahead. But as John Steinbeck once said, ‘‘and now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can just be good,’’ and I think these are good reforms. They will complement other measures by the Federal Government, as well as other State and local actors.
Similar provisions were introduced in a noncontroversial section of the FAA reauthorization bill that unfortunately House Democrats, led by Leader Pelosi, tried to block earlier this week. Despite the delays, I am pleased that the House acted a second time earlier today to ensure that this relief is delivered to those who need it most—again, not just in Texas but in Florida, the Virgin Islands, and in Puerto Rico, which reportedly has been devastated. Now we in this Chamber seem to have finally gotten the message, too, by passing this relief just this very afternoon as part of the FAA bill.
Our colleague from Florida, Representative Carlos Curbelo, said about the hurricane victims in his home State: ‘‘They don’t have time to wait. They certainly don’t have time to play political games.’’ He is right, and now we can say we have taken those words to heart. So I remember what I saw from that helicopter. Now that the time for surveying the scene has ended, what is no longer up in the air is this: For many Texans, Floridians, and Puerto Ricans, targeted tax relief will serve to make a difficult year just a little easier. So I salute the House for getting the job done, and I am glad we in this Chamber have quickly followed suit.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY):
Mr. President, on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we know about the crisis. Just looking at the pictures breaks your heart. We hear the stories of people desperately needing their medicine and diabetics needing insulin, which can’t be refrigerated because there is no electricity to keep the refrigeration going. There are people dying right now because they can’t get the medical attention they need, and, of course, there is a need for food, water, power, and transportation. It is awful.
Yesterday, Leader Pelosi and I met with Gen. Lori Robinson. It felt nice, amid this devastation, to see a woman have four stars on her shoulder. She is a four-star general in the Air Force, and she is head of the U.S. Northern Command. She is the military person in charge.
We met with her to get an update on the Department of Defense’s work in assisting the islands. It was evident from our conversation that, while the military is increasing the amount of resources it is sending to the island, there is a lack of command and control about how those resources are distributed. In other words, they probably have enough food, they probably have enough gasoline—that is what the Governor of Puerto Rico said today—but they can’t get it to the places it needs to go. Part of it is because they need transportation—trucks and things—but a lot of it is because there is no one there to make sure. Puerto Rico’s command and control has been decimated by this storm as well. People can’t get to the places they are supposed to go. They don’t have their phones, et cetera.
I spoke with Senator Rubio this morning in the gym as well. He had just recently visited Puerto Rico. He had seen the devastation firsthand, and he told me the same—that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are struggling, and they need help fast. His visit to Puerto Rico confirmed this idea that we really need command and control.
Well, there is no better command and control organization than our military, and we need our military to start aiding Puerto Rico in the command and control sense, as well as in the shipping of supplies, food, and the other kinds of things they need.
Puerto Rico needs help fast. They need personnel to direct the supplies and resources on the ground. All the aid in the world will be ineffective if it doesn’t go where it is needed to go. So I joined Senator Cantwell, the ranking member on the Energy Committee, which has jurisdiction in many ways here, and Senator Nelson, who cares a great deal about Puerto Rico and is from Florida, nearby, and 30 other Senators in sending a letter to the Trump administration that contains a list of needed resources and personnel to coordinate our relief efforts.
It appears there will not be a request for emergency supplemental appropriations this week. We hope it comes very soon. Mr. President, we cannot forget the utter devastation facing the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I have been on this Earth now for quite a few years, and I have never seen such devastation anywhere in the United States or its territories. So we need to act, and we need to act quickly. Command and control, which our military can help supply, should be at the top of the list.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT):
Mr. President, I am here for the third time in as many days to talk about this Nation’s response to a humanitarian crisis affecting millions of Americans—the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It is similar to the situation in Florida, in the gulf coast, and, some years ago, in Connecticut and in other parts of this country when they faced a natural disaster that was almost as devastating as an attack would be by a foreign power. Analogous but different, this category 4 Hurricane Maria caused consequences as devastating and destructive as any that man could do. It is a natural disaster, not manmade, but it is turning into a manmade disaster.
So far, the response from our government has been underwhelming. In fact, it has been inadequate and anemic. It has been shamefully slow and undersized and should be vastly upgraded and increased. Just moments ago, I learned that Lieutenant General Buchanan has been appointed to head the military efforts in Puerto Rico. That appointment followed a call just an hour or so ago with all of the representatives, including FEMA, the Department of Defense, other Federal agencies, and the Red Cross, during which I urged our U.S. military to be mobilized, much as we would be in responding to a natural disaster in Connecticut or Texas or Florida or other places in this country on the mainland where we have seen the same kind of storm.
The 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico are almost exactly the same number as the population of Connecticut. I hope, and I believe, the response would be better in Connecticut if we were to face the same kind of natural disaster. Yet the manmade disaster is the failure to move food, fuel, medicine, water, other necessities, and communications equipment from the ports and the airports into the interior of the country, even into the major cities, where currently apparently a lack of drivers and passable roads make it all the more difficult. Whether the supplies of food and fuel and medicine and water are adequate on the island or need to be increased on an emergency basis and whether there are sufficient shipments and airlifts going into the island, the simple fact is that Puerto Rico faces a disaster—manmade after natural.
I commend the loyal and dedicated people of FEMA and all of the National Guard, including the National Guard of Connecticut, who have performed with such heroism and dedication in the face of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, but their efforts need to be matched by many others. There are 4,500 American military personnel now in Puerto Rico. Rather than 5,000, there should be 50,000 of our National Guard, not to occupy the island, not to enforce martial law but to make sure the logistics—the transportation, the means of delivery of the lifeblood of that island in food and fuel and medicine and water and other basic necessities—are sufficient to move those basic supplies to the places they are needed. The troops who are there now are performing heroic, Herculean work, and so are many volunteers, along with FEMA officials, the Coast Guard, and others, but they need more help
Nearly a week after this storm, Maria, more than 90 percent of the island’s residents are without power, 42 percent have no water, the vast majority of the country’s 69 hospitals cannot function, and only 10 percent of the cell towers are working. If those conditions existed in Connecticut, I would be on the floor 24 hours a day. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have no one here, and they have no elected Representatives in the House of Representatives. They are voiceless or at least voteless in this body. We need to stand for them, speak out, and fight for them. That is why I am here for the third day in a row.
We need a plan and a strategy, which has been lacking from this administration. In that phone call earlier today with FEMA officials and the Department of Defense, I asked about a plan. They are working on it. The military, U.S. Northern Command, is working on a plan. They could not tell me when it will be ready or what it will say or what the total number of troops or other logistical supplies will be nor could they commit that there would be a waiver under FEMA regulations of the C through G conditions, which apply to permanent recovery.
The only decision that has been made is A to B, which provides for debris and other emergency responses over the next 180 days, and that is part of what the island needs—a longer term plan as well as an immediate one to make sure there is a road to recovery, that there is a path that will provide hope. Not only is the well-being and health of this island threatened but so is hope, which is so important for progress to be made. The people of Puerto Rico have been met with, at best, ambivalence and ambiguity by the President of the United States. Earlier this week, he seemed more inclined to blame the island itself and the size of the ocean than in advocating for help. I hope we can come together on a bipartisan basis. With the kind of situation that is there now— the danger of epidemic as well as immediate health threats before disease takes hold—we must act before people die. We must come to the aid of Puerto Rico. They need medical care. They need access to food and safe drinking water, and, yes, they need greater security.
The 78 mayors of Puerto Rico, along with the Governor, are doing also heroic and Herculean work, but a whole of government response is necessary from this body and from the Federal Government at a much higher magnitude. In the long term, we must have a martial plan—a strategy for rebuilding the island’s roads, bridges, rail, airports, ports, and VA facility, much as we do in this country, except that, there, the need is so much more dire and immediate. Hospitals, transportation, electricity, power, communications, safety, housing all have been destroyed, and the consequences will be deadly. My hope is that Lieutenant General Buchanan will expedite that plan. So far, it has been lacking. It should be done today. It should be integrated with the FEMA approach, and I hope they will permit visits by Members of the Congress who, so far, have been prevented from going there. The American people deserve to have elected Representatives there because Puerto Rico has none here. The extraordinary work done by the cable TV and reporters for the print media and others who are there have given us a picture—and often a picture is worth a thousand words—of the devastation that now continues from a manmade disaster that must be avoided before it takes lives and destroys hope. Thank you.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE):
Mr. President, a few minutes ago, the Senator from Connecticut made a speech about the natural disaster and humanitarian disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico. He urged the executive branch and, in particular, FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to move quicker to enable the Congress to do our oversight responsibilities. Director Long at FEMA today made clear to a number of us on a conference call briefing that there are constraints into and out of the airport at San Juan. There are all sorts of legitimate arguments he has made. At the same time, it is absolutely imperative for the American people and for the disaster unfolding in Puerto Rico that the Congress, in general, and the Senate, in particular, be able to do our oversight work. I would like to associate myself with the comments of the Senator from Connecticut.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI):
I want to thank the senior Senator from Texas for his leadership in the disaster response, and I pledge my commitment to whatever is needed for Houston and the areas around Houston, as well as Florida. I appreciate the commitment at the legislative level for what needs to be done in Puerto Rico. Mr. President, we also need to continue to apply pressure to the administration because it does appear as though there is an unequal response between what is happening in Puerto Rico and what has happened in Houston and in Florida. So we need to hold as a country the executive branch accountable for the lack of a sense of urgency for 3.5 million Americans who are mostly going to be without power for 9 months, who are currently without potable water, who are in a devastated situation. It is our obligation to do everything we can.
Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of S. 1866, the Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017. Mr. Speaker, September has been a difficult month for many students and families in areas such as Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and even my State of Georgia, just to name a few. We have all seen the truly saddening images of families who have been impacted by the likes of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and now we must come together as a nation to help our fellow Americans recover from these life-changing storms. These storms have left many Americans with questions on how to continue living their daily lives as they try to return to a sense of normalcy, and students are no exception. Hundreds of thousands of students have been impacted by these storms, and the Federal Government must be ready to address the needs of students, as well as their institutions of learning, so that their education may continue.
The Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria Education Relief Act of 2017 allows the Department of Education, as well as other Federal entities, to use the emergency tools at their disposal to immediately assist students impacted by the storms of this past month without the need of additional appropriations from Congress. First, the bill equips the Department of Education with temporary authority to waive certain rules governing campus-based aid programs for those institutions impacted by recent hurricanes. Second, the legislation ensures students and teachers at private schools receive services under the Project SERV grant program. This program helps school districts and institutions of higher education reestablish a safe learning environment after a violent or traumatic crisis. The program has issued grants to school districts, State educational agencies, and institutions of higher education after natural disasters, including Superstorm Sandy.
These funds have helped reopen schools or, in some cases, provided resources to operate a school at an alternative site while the original site is being repaired. Mr. Speaker, Congress has the power to use its resources to help students and families return to a sense of normalcy after these terrible storms, and we should do everything within our authority to help students remain on a pathway to success even in the aftermath of these storms. Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members to support S. 1866, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA):
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 1866, but I also stand concerned about the humanitarian crisis going on in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria and also the other hurricanes that have been in the area. More than 3.4 million people reside in Puerto Rico alone—U.S. citizens who are in need of full support of the Federal Government. This is more than the population of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska combined— U.S. citizens, yet they have no voting Members of Congress. U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands serve in our military.
In fact, Puerto Ricans serve in our military at a rate twice the general U.S. population, and they are hurting. They are fighting to survive, and they are in desperate need of food, clean water, medical supplies, and security. Hurricane Maria essentially wiped out ports, roads, electricity, communications, water supply, crops, and many homes. Today, 97 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are still without power, and 40 percent do not have access to clean drinking water. So Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are now homeless, displaced, and without food, water, fuel, and medication. Congress and this administration have an obligation to act swiftly and to act boldly to ease the suffering of our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This bill, the Hurricane Relief Act, is well-intentioned and a good starting point. But make no mistake, the limited flexibility offered to those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in this bill will be helpful, but the bill does not go far enough to provide the kind of relief that is needed in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
These Americans do not have voting representation in Congress that allows their representatives to most effectively advocate on their behalf. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens and provide them with the support that they desperately need. This is a life-and-death situation, and any further delay for aid will lead to unnecessary tragedy. So I urge this body to bring a full emergency supplemental bill to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to a vote. The citizens affected by the hurricane are running out of time. Mr. Speaker, I ask that we pass the bill, but, after we pass it, get right to work on a full relief bill for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):
It is unfortunate that we are here today debating inadequate policies while our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are hurting. While I do not doubt the underlying bill was made with good intentions, it is not just inadequate for all the victims of the hurricanes, and it is insulting to the people of Puerto Rico. They are hurting. They have no food, no water, no power. They need our help.
Estimates suggest the storm caused $40 billion to $85 billion in insurance claims throughout the Caribbean, with 85 percent of those losses in Puerto Rico. Nearly all of the island is without power, and 85 percent of cell towers were knocked out. The hurricane ravaged 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico—a $780 million loss. This will result in higher food prices at a time when Puerto Rico faces shortages. These are only the initial estimates. Each day we learn more about the scale of devastation, and likely won’t know the measure of damage for some time. FEMA has indicated that it has ‘‘provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall.’’ That is a quote from FEMA.
Yet the total population of American citizens in Puerto Rico is 3.4 million. The total in the U.S. Virgin Islands is over 100,000. It has been 7 days since the storm. The math simply doesn’t add up, and neither does the bill as it is written. This motion to recommit would do more for the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands than the underlying bill. Unlike the underlying bill, this motion will give them funds to help them rebuild. The dollars are directed for rebuilding and other economic support. It considers specific provisions to ensure long-term growth is capable on the island, and it strives to treat disaster victims equally. By taking the politics out of natural disasters, all of our constituents, from New York, and Puerto Rico, to Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, will automatically have the necessary aid to rebuild. Giving them this peace of mind will give them the ability to focus on what matters: their families and communities
Rather than putting forth a fig leaf to offer themselves cover, as the underlying bill does, this motion would provide immediate, greater benefits to the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They cannot wait for assistance. By voting for this motion, you would be voting to help our fellow Americans. I urge all Members to vote ‘‘yes.’’
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL):
Mr. Speaker, I believe in bipartisanship, which means that oftentimes I am disappointed in this institution, but today I am not disappointed, I am shocked. I am shocked that some would politicize such a sensitive, desperate situation that so many Americans, from Texas to Puerto Rico, are facing at this hour. My colleagues say they want to help the people of Puerto Rico, the people of the Florida Keys in my district, and others throughout the country. A lot of them have come here boasting about the fact that they have never opposed a disaster relief package, yet they are willing to do so today. Why? To try to attempt to score political points.
I think that is wrong, and I can’t help but take it personally, because my constituents really need this help. The people of Puerto Rico, by the way, the person they elected to this chamber, Jenniffer González Colón supports this legislation; Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, our colleague, put her name to this legislation as well; Chairman Brady, whose constituents are trying to recover in the Houston area, is asking for passage of this legislation, yet people from other parts of the country are coming to this floor saying: No, that is not good enough for your constituents.
So if my constituents get nothing, I should tell them: That is right. Someone from elsewhere said that because this wasn’t good enough, you get nothing. That is just wrong. This is an important first step that we have to take to help people in all of these jurisdictions, especially the people of Puerto Rico, because we know that the situation there is in no way comparable to anything that has happened on the mainland. It is personal for me in that sense as well, because guess what? When my wife’s family was exiled from Cuba, they went to Puerto Rico and they were welcomed there. My wife’s two elder brothers were born in Puerto Rico. My wife still has family in Puerto Rico, and I know that this legislation would improve their situation.
Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we work together to do more in the future? Yes, we should and we will, but that is no excuse to vote against this legislation, that is no excuse to leverage the suffering of these people to try to achieve a political objective or even to advance different legislation. I respectfully ask all my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, and I thank the 26 Democrats who stood with us on Monday, and I ask them to do it again today and for more to join us, to send a strong message of national unity for the people of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and, yes, Puerto Rico.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD):
First of all, I want to speak of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The leader and I, Mr. Speaker, were scheduled to try to go to Key West and to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands this weekend. I am not sure that that is going to be able to happen, given some of the logistics on the ground, but whether that happens or not, Mr. Speaker, I know the leader and I are going to work very hard on this. There is a humanitarian crisis that has confronted Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Key West, at least you can drive to Key West still, and we can get relief to Key West and to Florida and to victims of Harvey. Obviously, our fellow Americans who are residents of two islands, or actually more than two islands, but that comprise Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are in life threatening distress.
I talked today to Dr. Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, about the availability of dialysis on the island. There are people who have already died because they were not able to get to dialysis centers, and those centers don’t have all the electricity they need, so there is a humanitarian crisis, as I pointed out, Mr. Speaker, and I know the leader appreciates this. Mr. Leader, I know we don’t have anything on the floor with reference to additional resources that might be and are necessary to meet this humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but I would urge the majority leader, as I have done and I think he has done, to be in contact with the administration, be in contact with FEMA.
In particular, I was pleased to see that General Kim has now been appointed, as General Honore was for New Orleans and Katrina, to coordinate activities. We have extraordinary resources in the Armed Forces of the United States, and I would urge the President, as Commander in Chief, and the Department of Defense to allocate every resource necessary to get the American people who live in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to a point where communications, the availability of food, the availability of water, the availability of medical services are up and running, hopefully, full bore by the end of this weekend. This is a crisis.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):
I thank him for his interest, and it is true, the gentleman and I were hopefully trying to go down to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and Key West to look at some of the damage, and, right now, the Coast Guard tells us, with the rescue attempts that are ongoing, that we probably would be taking some equipment away from doing that work, and we do not want to do any of that. We will be able to go a little later when the time is right. We will continue to work with the administration.
When you think what this country has gone through with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, I do want to give thanks to the work of the administration. I have seen some coordination like I have not seen in the past. We know these are islands. The damage of the two hurricanes they have to go through, I have been keeping in constant contact, and just speaking with FEMA just recently, they are currently coordinating and establishing seven temporary hospitals. That was one of my concerns with dialysis and others, but there is so much more to do to be able to move through, and I will work with the gentleman, as we have in the past, to make sure whatever they need will be able to get there.
And I do want to thank Congressman Carlos Curbelo for his amendment to the bill that we just voted on, adding a little more resources there to make sure, knowing the tax code of Puerto Rico is a little different than the one we had voted on as we go through, to give them greater assistance, and the Virgin Islands.
Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ):
Mr. Speaker, I am glad President Trump listened to Secretary Clinton and deployed the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort to Puerto Rico, even though it was 7 days after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island. But President Trump must do more and do it now. Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States has a moral and legal duty to protect the well-being of our citizens.
That is why today, right now, the President must order the Department of Defense to deploy all available assets to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to prevent this catastrophe from getting worse. The thousands of Puerto Ricans and all of the Virgin Islanders I represent deserve to know that our Nation’s priority is their well-being, their families’, their friends’, and their fellow citizens’ as well—American citizens.