Trump Will Visit Puerto Rico To “Survey Damage” As Locals Plead For Aid: “We Are Americans Too”
President Trump announced on Tuesday morning that he will travel to Puerto Rico next week to survey damage from Hurricane Maria, however he said that next Tuesday is the earliest he is able to travel to the island due to the damage. Trump said the island is “literally destroyed” but expressed confidence “they’ll be back.” He said the people of Puerto Rico “are important to all of us.”
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And while Trump added that federal authorities are landing relief supplies “on an hourly basis”, Trump’s act may come as too little, too late for some of the locals, who felt the urge to remind the White House they are also Americans. That’s just what Governor Ricardo Rossello and the commonwealth’s government have done, over and over, in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “There needs to be unprecedented relief for Puerto Rico so that we can start the immediate effort right now,” Rossello said Tuesday on MSNBC.
As Bloomberg writes, Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million American citizens without a vote in Congress, is lobbying Washington for what could be billions in funding to rebuild its infrastructure, including its decimated energy grid. And it’s doing so amid an already costly hurricane season.
The island was crawling with 10,000 federal relief workers who were conducting search-and-rescue missions, helping bring electricity to hospitals, and providing aid packages, baby food and more. But with the Washington visitors on hand, Rossello’s team missed no opportunity to remind them of why Puerto Rico — mired in bankruptcy and ill-equipped financially to go it alone — shouldn’t become an afterthought.
At the San Juan airport Tuesday, there were signs of exodus. People waiting for standby flights have been camped out for days. One mother with two infants in car-seat carriers broke into tears, while desperate tourists took out smartphones to film video and demand answers on why there wasn’t water and other provisions, outside of the expensive airport shops.
Yamira Feliciano Ribera, 40, was there with a group of six relatives and friends, including two children, ages 1 and 3. She said they’d slept on the hard floor using luggage for pillows.
“We want to get out of Puerto Rico for a better situation,” she said, doling out Cheerios to the children. “We’re without water, without AC, without cash.”
Additionally, over the weekend, some Puerto Ricans took offense when Trump went on a Twitter rant about professional athletes and their views on race relations, but omitted any comment on Puerto Rico, which was by that time falling deeper into crisis. When he did tweet Monday night, the president drew a comparison between the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with that of Maria: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.”
Noting that “much of the Island was destroyed” and that it still owes Wall Street billions of dollars, he added: “Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well. #FEMA”
The tweets came after criticism from some corners of Congress, with Representative Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House’s Armed Services Committee, blasting the administration’s response as “wholly inadequate.”
Still, the island’s leaders have been effusive. The visitors Monday were “a clear indication that the administration is committed” to Puerto Rico, Rossello said.
There was still plenty to do, though.
Rossello said he requested a temporary waiver on the cost-sharing between FEMA and the commonwealth. Normally Puerto Rico would commit 25 percent of the recovery funds, but it was already in fiscal straits and had filed for a form of bankruptcy protection before the disaster. After a disastrous debt binge, enabled by tax breaks that for decades had investors clamoring for its securities, Puerto Rico owes $74 billion. Rubio said Puerto Rico should have access to low-interest loans, and Rossello later said that could be through the Fed or Treasury Department.
It doesn’t look like Puerto Rico will get all its requested fulfilled, however. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting congressional representative, said in an interview Monday that Puerto Rico sought an extended waiver on the Jones Act, a century-old set of rules that many say make imports more costly by requiring most good to be brought in by U.S. ships. But as the AP reported, the Trump administration doesn’t plan to waive the act.
She’s also spoken with House Speaker Paul Ryan about having the Federal Emergency Management Agency temporarily cover the full cost of the damage, instead of the typical 75 percent, although it was unclear if the request will be granted.
Rossello reminded his visitors Monday of the role Puerto Rico played as an aid hub after Irma, when the U.S. Virgin Islands were badly hit. And he sent his visitors home with a message for the rest of Washington: “Let them know that we’re committed U.S. citizens, proud U.S. citizens, who helped others when they were going through difficult times, not more than 10 days ago,” he said. “Now it’s time to help Puerto Rico back.”