WASHINGTON – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said today that he has no intention of abandoning Puerto Rico disaster recovery efforts while fielding a flurry of questions from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who blasted President Trump for tweeting that federal workers cannot stay on the island “forever.”
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump wrote in a series of tweets this morning while the island tries to re-establish electricity and potable water sources in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The president quoted former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson as saying that “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” Trump claimed that the governor has cited a “total lack of accountability,” and added that Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and infrastructure were a disaster before the hurricanes.
After the category 5 storm struck, Trump heavily criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whom he accused of leading a politically motivated attack on his administration’s relief efforts.
Waters, the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, railed against the president’s tweets during a committee hearing where Carson testified on the progress of U.S. housing programs. She criticized the president for seeking to shame Puerto Rico “for its own plight,” and hammered Carson on whether he agreed with the president’s suggestion to remove federal responders.
“I have no intention of abandoning Puerto Rico. They’re a very important part of who we are,” Carson said.
“So you don’t agree with the president?” Waters asked.
“Our job is to make sure we take care of the disaster that has occurred,” Carson responded. “Of course it should not be abandoned. … There is no question that there have been a lot of difficulties in Puerto Rico. I don’t think it’s beneficial to go around shaming people, in general.”
“I’m glad to hear that you don’t agree with the president,” Waters said, cautioning against removing federal responders from a U.S. territory during a “staggering humanitarian crisis.”
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), a co-author of legislation meant to address about $118 billion in Puerto Rican debt, countered that Trump was somewhat accurate in saying that Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was not up to standards, and the government was dealing with significant debt before the hurricane. He dismissed the notion that Trump is shaming anyone on the island, noting that the White House requested a $36 billion supplemental package for disaster aid, including efforts in Puerto Rico.
“I can tell you through being in many conversations with the president and other members of the cabinet – he is no way thinking about abandoning them. He’s put a lot of effort into that,” Carson said.
Mayor Cruz responded to Trump via Twitter on Thursday with the message: “It is not that you do not get it; you are incapable of fulfilling the moral imperative to help the people of PR. Shame on you.!”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said that the U.S. government should be doing everything within its power to ensure that disaster victims and displaced families in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can get back on their feet in a timely fashion. Carson agreed with his assertion.
According to the latest update from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about 64 percent of Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority customers have potable water, 10 percent have electricity and 86 percent of the island’s grocery stores are open. Cost estimates for damage from the hurricane range from $45 billion to $95 billion.