Steny Hoyer leads trip to Puerto Rico amid aid standoff
Hoyer also hopes the trip can help pressure GOP leaders, who have rejected a Democratic package of nearly $5 billion in post-earthquake aid — the latest partisan clash involving Trump and Puerto Rico in the wake of a long string of natural disasters, including a deadly hurricane that claimed 3,000 lives.
Joining Hoyer will be Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) had to withdraw from the trip.
The visit will kick off Sunday with briefings from Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez — who is facing calls to resign over complaints about the public response to the disaster — as well as FEMA officials. On Monday, lawmakers will travel to the southern part of the island, where thousands of people have been forced from their homes and children kept home from schools after earthquakes toppled structures in the area.
Puerto Rico is still reeling from an earthquake “swarm” — including 11 quakes that reached a magnitude of 5 or greater — in the last seven weeks. The most severe struck in early January, leaving many without water and power for days.
Small tremors and aftershocks continue to rattle the island, which may be felt for weeks, if not years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Officials in Puerto Rico, meanwhile, are still fighting the Trump administration to get long-overdue emergency aid stemming from the string of disastrous hurricanes in 2017. The island’s infrastructure, including its main power plant, was still weak from the hurricanes and was again strained by the earthquakes.
In all, Congress has approved $20 billion in hurricane-related aid, though much has been delayed in reaching the island, in part because of Trump’s intense scrutiny on Puerto Rico’s budget. Trump had long railed against Puerto Rico’s government, accusing it of misusing federal aid while also clashing with Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Democratic mayor of San Juan.
After months of complaints from Democrats, the White House announced in January that it would release $8 billion in long-term rebuilding aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In recent weeks, Democrats have pushed to send more cash to Puerto Rico specifically for the earthquakes, including $100 million for education, $1.25 billion for highways and $2 billion in general rebuilding money from HUD.
But the White House has threatened to veto the package, and the Senate did not take it up for a vote.
“If Puerto Rico was a state, this would have already been done,” Hoyer said, adding that the territory has “gotten a pretty raw deal” from the Trump administration.
Still, there have been missteps by Puerto Rico’s government, which has been rocked by scandals. Former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló resigned in July following the publication of hundreds of crude message sent by the former governor and other officials. More recently, protests broke out across the island after a warehouse of unused disaster supplies was discovered last month.
Hoyer said he planned to “learn the facts” about where things stand with the recovery — what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and what’s still needed.
“Everyone would admit that Puerto Rico hasn’t responded perfectly to the crisis itself. That doesn’t excuse delay on behalf of the people who’ve been hurt,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer last visited Puerto Rico with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), after the hurricanes in 2017. Hoyer also invited McCarthy on this trip, but the California Republican had scheduling conflicts.