WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s comments that federal aid for hurricane relief won’t last “forever” were “unpresidential,” “shameful” and insulting, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez said in an impassioned speech Thursday.
The first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress was not able to speak directly to the president immediately after his Thursday morning tweets, so she addressed a House Financial Services committee.
“I am the only member who is a Puerto Rican-American citizen who sits in this committee. … I just would like for you to let him know how shameful all the tweets that he put out this morning are. How offended and insulted I am as an American citizen.”
In three early morning tweets, Trump said electricity and infrastructure on the island was a “disaster before hurricanes,” and Congress is deciding how much to spend on relief.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!,” the president ended.
Trump has not made similar statements about other U.S. states recently hit by hurricanes.
“Why is it he doesn’t put the same tweets when it comes to Texas or Florida?” she asked.
Velázquez then offered Trump a history lesson.
“Puerto Ricans didn’t invite the United States armed forces; it was invaded. So with that invasion comes responsibility,” she said. “We shed blood to defend the freedoms that every American in this country enjoys, so to kick fellow citizens while they are down is shameful.”
Citizenship was imposed on the island in 1917 in order to draft men for World War I, she said.
“So those tweets are unpresidential. The most basic fundamental responsibility of the president … is to show up and make, and provide the assistance and the relief that American citizens need,” Velázquez said.
At least 45 people died when Hurricane Maria hit struck the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, but the number could be much higher.
Now, members of Congress, including Velázquez, are requesting a formal audit of the death toll, citing concerns about “woefully underreported” numbers, Vice News reports.
Additionally, 89 percent of the island still did not have electricity as of Wednesday, and nearly 47 percent had no phone service, CNN reports.
More than six in 10 Americans say that Puerto Rico isn’t getting the help they need and a majority says the federal government hasn’t been doing enough and the response is too slow, according to a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Trump has not responded to Velázquez’s criticisms, or the latest poll, but on Friday did tweet:
“The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H’s. I will always be with them!”