The president made his first comments about Puerto Rico on Monday night, nearly a week after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the U.S. territory and sparked a humanitarian emergency. In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump noted that getting emergency supplies to the island was a “top priority.” But he also brought up the “billions of dollars” the territory owes Wall Street, saying the debt “must be dealt with.”
Trump’s tweets came a few hours after I spoke with Jeff Schlegelmich, the deputy director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He worried about whether Congress would treat emergency funding requests for Puerto Rico the same as requests for Florida and Texas, which were also recently hit with devastating hurricanes. Those two states have voting representatives to fight for them—Puerto Rico does not. And because of that, “It’s going to be a lot easier for people to challenge funding,” he said. “The GOP will find any excuse not to give them the robust aid package given to places like Texas and Florida. We want to pretend these things don’t happen, but absolutely they do.”
It wouldn’t be unprecedented if some GOP members came out against a pricey aid package for Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Sandy, only six Republican senators and 49 Republican representatives voted in favor of the $50 billion recovery plan. Many of those Republicans who opposed Sandy aid were from Texas; and yet, many of those same Republicans are now asking for help with Harvey. Texans are fortunate to have representatives who will fight for them in a political battle over emergency relief funding. Puerto Rico is not so lucky.