House Speaker Paul Ryan called the desperate conditions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria “a humanitarian crisis” shortly before President Donald Trump announced plans to visit the island on Tuesday.
As images of complete devastation and millions struggling to recover with major power outages days after the storm hit Ryan made a point to say that those in Puerto Rico “need to know they are in our thoughts and our prayers.”
“This is our own country and these are our fellow citizens. They need our help and they are going to get our help,” Ryan pledged.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York pushed for a vote this week on disaster aid for the US territory.
“The administration should prepare an immediate and interim emergency aid request and the majority leader should put that package on the floor of the Senate before we leave this week. Anything less would be an abject failure of our duty to come to the aid of our fellow US citizens,” Schumer said Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Ryan’s message that more help would be on the way but said Congress needed to determine details about what is needed.
“We want the people of Puerto Rico and the islands to know that we are thinking of them and - more importantly - we want them to know that we will continue to work with FEMA, the Department of Defense, and the rest of the administration to help in the recovery,” he said on the Senate floor. “And I expect we’ll hear more soon on what additional resources will be necessary in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the paths of the storms.”
Ryan maintained that the victims there will get the same help that those in Texas and Florida received. Last week, when visiting a neighborhood flooded outside Houston by Hurricane Harvey, the speaker said he expected Congress to approve two emergency funding bills to help victims in several states and Puerto Rico.
GOP aides tell CNN they expect an official request from the Trump administration in mid-October.
But Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told reporters on Tuesday “none of us have done enough because there is so much to do.” Curbelo said he spoke this morning with Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, who he said was emotional “because the island has been wrecked.”
Asked if it hurts the island that they don’t have the same status as the 50 states in Congress, Curbelo said, “it would be hard to argue that they are not.”
And speaking on CNN, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, said Trump should tweet less and focus on Puerto Rico crisis or it will “be Mr. Trump’s Katrina.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
Correction: Rep. Curbelo’s statement has been updated to accurately reflect his comments