San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz came to Washington Wednesday to share stories of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. The problem is that only Democrats were there to listen.
Without leverage in Congress, Puerto Rico’s allies can’t get action in Washington. On Tuesday night, Republicans canceled a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on hurricane recovery due to a disagreement with Democrats over witnesses. Cruz has been a frequent critic of President Trump.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long was expected to testify before the committee, and Democrats wanted Cruz to be included on the witness list. Instead Republicans postponed the hearing until an undetermined date. Cruz, nevertheless, lined up meetings on the Hill Wednesday, joining House Democrats in their weekly caucus meeting.
Standing alongside Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and four other Democratic members, Cruz told reporters that the island is on the “verge” of a health crisis and that it’s impossible to get an accurate figure on the number of deaths across the island.
“It’s been reported 911 cremations in one month, which is an outstanding figure, much higher than we’ve ever seen before,” Cruz said, noting that hospitals don’t want to report deaths that are caused by a lack of access to electricity.
"The Trump administration can't handle the truth," she said. "Survival cannot be our new way of life."
Cruz scheduled meetings with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. But no Republicans had the time to meet with her, she said.
“I would meet with anybody — we made some efforts,” Cruz said, referring to Republicans.
Cruz didn’t single out congressional Republicans too much — her main fight is with President Trump — but she did scold Congress for not moving fast enough and for adding to the island’s already crippling debt.
The $4.9 million loan passed by Congress last month should be a grant, Cruz said, a point she would have made had she been allowed to testify before the Homeland Security Committee.
“Things are still in very bad shape and it is a life-or-death situation for everybody, even people in San Juan,” she said.
Cruz said she wouldn’t be meeting with Trump during her trip to Washington and didn’t apologize for the tactics she’s employed to get the administration's attention since the storm. She was asked about the difference in her interactions with the president compared to Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello.
Rossello has tried to maintain relations with the White House and earlier this month praised the administration’s recovery response. Cruz said Rossello is starting to change his tune due frustrations that have grown with securing aid from the federal government.
“Perhaps the governor thought that if he didn’t call the administration on their poor commitment to the people of Puerto Rico ... that he would get the help he would need,” Cruz said.
Despite the glacial pace at which most things happen in Washington, Cruz said she wasn't disheartened, adding she hopes Republicans join Democrats in putting “more pressure on the president.”
Still, the focus of Capitol Hill Wednesday fell on hearings revealing the extent of Russia’s infiltration of social media in 2016 and Republicans' still-to-be unveiled tax overhaul proposal — not the American citizens of Puerto Rico who’ve gone without clean water and no electricity for more than a month.
On Thursday, a handful of Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will gather on the steps of the Capitol in solidarity with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it likely won’t be enough to attract the president's attention, according to some.
“I don’t think he cares, I just don’t think he cares,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “You have to put Trump in the ‘I don’t give a shit about the people of Puerto Rico column.’”