Top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and Virgin Island’s representative in Congress called for an “emergency” hearing on the Trump administration’s response to the deadly hurricanes in the past month. In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Trey Gowdy, the signers demanded a hearing next week.
Rep. Elijah Cummings and Delegate Stacey Plaskett explained in their letter, “Urgent action by our Committee now could help accelerate the federal response to the devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and make a measurable and significant difference in the lives of American families there.”
The Trump administration has been under a barrage of constant criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria, and the recovery effort underway in Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands was also damaged by both hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Critics argue that the Trump administration moved faster to lend a helping hand to the mainland communities in the Texas and Florida, while completely forgetting the other areas requiring more help, an accusation which was denied immediately by the government officials.
The President said during his address in Washington on the tax reforms that sending the aid to Puerto Rico is difficult as it is “surrounded by water.”
“This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said. “Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort … will be funded,” he added, “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”
In the letter however, they wrote, “Oversight now also could help prevent a worsening of the human tragedy that is unfolding and could help ensure that the lessons our Committee identified from past federal responses are implemented by the Trump administration.”
Two Oversight Committee hearings on the cybersecurity and the use of the canines for security purposes are currently scheduled for the next week, but both at the subcommittee level.
Gowdy said in a statement on Friday afternoon that the Oversight Committee staff have been participating in regular briefings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about the responsiveness to the recent hurricanes. He said that asking FEMA officials to testify before the committee could use up time that would be spent on directing the disaster relief.
“Right now, FEMA needs to focus on their mission at hand – to ensure all communities impacted are receiving the assistance they desperately need. We will continue to monitor the Administration’s response to these natural disasters. But for now, we don’t want to do anything to disrupt the flow of aid to those in need by calling FEMA officials to testify before our Committee in the middle of their disaster relief effort,” he said.
An Oversight aide said that Gowdy has further offered to do information-gathering phone calls with Cummings so that FEMA officials don’t necessarily have to travel to Washington.