Rep. Gutiérrez Responds to President’s Puerto Rico Performance
Washington, DC – For the second day in a row, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor about what he saw while he was in Puerto Rico over the weekend and about the President’s trip to Puerto Rico yesterday. The President and First Lady met with officials and toured Guaynabo, a wealthy suburb of San Juan, and the President was also pictured distributing flashlights and paper towels to victims of Hurricane Maria. The President also remarked that Puerto Rico was throwing his budget “out of whack” and that the death toll, then 16, now officially 34, compares favorably to “a real catastrophe like Katrina” and therefore shows the President that the relief effort in Puerto Rico is going great.
Rep. Gutiérrez does not agree with the President’s rosy assessment.
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 to cut taxes is really as important as people’s lives in danger.
Rep. Gutiérrez spoke about the people who call his office, most of them constituents in his Chicago-area district, seeking help locating and evacuating loved ones. “Two weeks after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico,” Rep. Gutiérrez said, “there are people who have not been heard from and people who are calling for help, but have not received it.” He said he has received requests for help on Facebook and from his constituents – and even from other Members of Congress seeking his help in getting people out of Puerto Rico. He said:
These messages break my heart and I don’t know what to tell people except to say that help may be on the way soon, but of course that is not good enough. And I have no explanation for why it is not already there.
He chided the President for using the current body count of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria, 16 as of yesterday and 34 as of today, as the ‘metric’ by which the President congratulated himself for his own success. At the conclusion of his speech, Rep. Gutiérrez said:
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 any 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 his mind. We cannot wait that long.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He was born in Chicago, but has lived in Puerto Rico at various points in his life. He was in Puerto Rico this past weekend.
A video of the Congressman’s speech today is here: https://youtu.be/mOIEp36_OAo
The Text as prepared for delivery is here:
October 4, 2017
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.
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 two weeks after a calamity – even a devastating calamity like Hurricane Maria.
Most of the calls I have received 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 just received a call from Mrs. K (I won’t give her full 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 that she can receive treatment.
And Mr. Speaker, if you take a look at my Facebook, 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 they 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 ten minutes ago to María in Chicago and she said “Congressman, I haven’t heard from my parents, in Cayey.”
Mr. Speaker, these messages break my heart and I don’t know what to tell people except to say that help may be on the way soon, but of course that is not good enough.
And 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. I spent a lot of time with them in Puerto Rico while I was there and they are working hard, tired, and facing the difficult task of finding and feeding people.
From what I saw in Puerto Rico, what I am hearing from my constituents, and what I am hearing from my family and friends, we need to seriously ramp up and use the full capabilities of the U.S. government and the U.S. military to rescue people.
They don’t need paper towels tossed to them like T-Shirts at a sports arena. They need helicopters, bridges, cell towers and generators.
Which 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 to cut taxes is really as important as people’s lives in danger.
From the beginning, he has focused on the cost of saving Puerto Ricans, not the moral duty to save Puerto Ricans.
He has essentially said that Puerto Ricans are sitting around looking for hand-outs and not helping themselves, which is not at all what I saw in Puerto Rico, 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?
Yes! He said that a real tragedy like Hurricane Katrina killed many more, so I guess he is saying, hey, only 16 people, why the big fuss. And that number doubled overnight, by the way.
And everyone understands that it will go up farther still when contact is made with all parts of the Island.
I look at it a different way.
To me, it is almost like Hurricane Maria has posed a test to the United States of America and 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 people in Congress…tell me what will you do to prevent that number from going 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 any 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 his mind. We cannot wait that long.
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