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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Gutiérrez Responds To President On Puerto Rico Hurricane Deaths

September 13, 2018
Press Release
“With 3,000 people dead, for the President to say that Puerto Rico was a success – a triumph of the Trump presidency – is simply delusional.”
Issues: 

Washington, DC – Today in a speech on the House floor, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) reacted to President Trump’s Tweets today denying that 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit the Island and the President’s claim earlier this week that the response to Maria was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”  The Congressman said the response to Hurricane Maria was “disaster mismanagement…that lies at the feet of the President and his Administration.”

He said: “With 3,000 people dead, for the President to say that Puerto Rico was a success – a triumph of the Trump presidency – is simply delusional.”  He also said, “More people died in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico than died in Hurricane Katrina, and than died in the attacks of 9-11.  That is not fake news, Mr. President.”

Rep, Gutiérrez went on to say: “What is offensive to many of us is that even though the President dropped the ball, he is now doing a victory dance in the end zone.  Or should we call it the dead zone?”

The Congressman, who has traveled several times to the Island to provide relief and who plans to retire to Puerto Rico when he leaves Congress next year, said:

Disasters require preparedness and rapid response. But FEMA was not fully prepared and they were not fully supported in the rapid response by the Trump Administration which was then – and is now – a disorganized mess. Which we didn’t need Bob Woodward to tell us.

He concluded his remarks by saying:

I pray that his [Trump’s] response to the current disaster unfolding along the East Coast will be better and more empathetic.  He has a golf club in North Carolina and a winery in Virginia, so maybe the American people in those states will get more of the President’s help than my fellow Puerto Ricans did.  And I pray it is more successful.

A video of the Congressman’s floor speech, delivered shortly after 10 am ET is here: https://youtu.be/zvKBkmkxl_k

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is the Dean of the Illinois delegation and a thirteen-term Member of Congress from Chicago.  He is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Floor Remarks

September 13, 2018

Mr. Speaker:

Before I respond to President Trump’s claim that the rescue and recovery effort in Puerto Rico a year ago after Hurricane Maria was quote “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done,” I want to make a few things clear.

First of all, everyone is praying for our friends and neighbors along the Eastern Seaboard who will be facing the wind and rain of Hurricane Florence today.  I support them and the first responders who are helping and the people running shelters and delivering medicine to the sick and injured.  And I fully support FEMA, Homeland Security and state and local governments for what they are doing, especially the brave men and women on the front lines in harm’s way.

Secondly, in the last few weeks, the official death toll of Hurricane Maria was raised to 3,000 based on the meticulous study of the George Washington’s Milken Institute of Public Health  and the number is based on facts and the truth.  More people died in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico than died in Hurricane Katrina, and than died in the attacks of 9-11.  That is not fake news, Mr. President.

The temptation is to fault FEMA and the job they did in Puerto Rico, but I want to be clear.  Individuals at FEMA and FEMA as an agency did heroic work in Puerto Rico – and FEMA is continuing to do heroic work in Puerto Rico.  I flew with FEMA pilots ten days after the storm hit and I saw their work up close.  It is clear FEMA saved lives.

But let me also be very, very clear.  With 3,000 people dead, for the President to say that Puerto Rico was a success – a triumph of the Trump presidency – is simply delusional.

Only in the President’s mind could he give himself an A-plus.  Only in the President’s mind could we go a year without an apology to the American people for his incompetence in managing a crisis where 3,000 people died.  And now he denies that they are dead.

It takes a man of humility, honor, and compassion to admit when they have made a tremendous and deadly mistake in caring for the American people and we know we do not have a man in the White House who is capable of such emotions, empathy, or basic human decency.

And this Congress has failed to provide any meaningful oversight for fear that they might embarrass the President with the facts. 

Thursday will mark one year since the storm hit and think back a year ago.  The popular and charismatic Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, called for help on national TV saying that people were dying in Puerto Rico.  The President had a meltdown because he doesn’t like being criticized by women or by people of color, so the Mayor’s words were more than the President could take.

Most of us knew at the time – and all of us know now a year after the storm – the Mayor was right and the President was wrong.  Dead wrong.

Disasters require preparedness and rapid response.  But FEMA was not fully prepared and they were not fully supported in the rapid response by the Trump Administration which was then – and is now – a disorganized mess. Which we didn’t need Bob Woodward to tell us.

Yes, the massive power of the storm was compounded by decades of neglect from Washington, which contributed to the debt crisis and infrastructure collapse.  And to be clear, Puerto Rico’s problems didn’t happen overnight and didn’t happen on President Trump’s watch. 

But let’s also be clear; it is his watch now.  As President of the United States, he is responsible for Puerto Rico – a U.S. Territory that belongs to and is the responsibility of the United States. 

Yes, islands are surrounded by water -- deep water -- but FEMA and Homeland Security never called in the U.S. military, which has capabilities FEMA doesn’t have and there were many other problems, delays and missteps.

From the beginning, the President’s focus was on damage control from a political standpoint – not damage control from a human life standpoint. 

The sad truth is that in trying so hard to make sure that the hurricane did not become “Trump’s Katrina,” we lost far more lives.

This was disaster mismanagement and that lies at the feet of the President and his Administration. What is offensive to many of us is that even though the President dropped the ball, he is now doing a victory dance in the end zone.  Or should we call it the dead zone?

I pray that his response to the current disaster unfolding along the East Coast will be better and more empathetic.  He has a golf club in North Carolina and a winery in Virginia, so maybe the American people in those states will get more of the President’s help than my fellow Puerto Ricans did.  And I pray it is more successful.

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