The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is currently facing one of the direst humanitarian crises in its history, having been slammed by Hurricane Maria last week and left in devastated condition. The entire island is now in desperate condition, with almost no working electricity, a dwindling amount of drinkable water, and thousands of people left homeless and confined to shelters. In short, it's a nightmare, and one that the White House doesn't want American members of Congress to survey right now ― the Trump administration is blocking lawmakers from visiting Puerto Rico, according to The Washington Post, citing concerns that congressional visits would impede recovery efforts.
The administration, and President Donald Trump himself, has faced heavy scrutiny and criticism for their response to the crisis. On Tuesday, Trump insisted that the recovery effort is lagging behind those in Texas and Florida because Puerto Rico is an island, saying "this is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean."
The administration has also so far refused to waive the Jones Act, a 1920 law placing requirements on ships transporting good between American ports that is slowing down aid shipments to the island. The Jones Act was waived in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma striking Florida, despite relative circumstances being far less disastrous.
And now, according to a report from The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe, the White House is throwing up obstacles to lawmakers visiting the island. According to "multiple congressional aides," the administration is preventing members of Congress from flying into Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands on military airplanes, ostensibly to avoid any distraction from the relief efforts.
Trump himself has not yet visited Puerto Rico, though he's scheduled to fly out there next week. This raised the possibility that U.S. lawmakers might arrive on the island well in advance of Trump visiting to survey the damage, which could have been a politically problematic image. Trump has been roundly criticized for his tact on Puerto Rico, having waited days to even publicly address the disaster after the hurricane passed through.
When he did finally address the crisis on Twitter, Trump chose to highlight Puerto Rico's billions of dollars of public debt, which further fueled outrage toward him. While Puerto Rico is not an American state, it is a U.S. territory, and its residents are U.S. citizens. This is a fact that a depressingly high number of people aren't even aware of ― according to a recent Morning Consult poll, nearly half of Americans don't realize that people born in Puerto Rico are themselves U.S. citizens.
According to the island's resident commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez, the damage wrought by the storm has set Puerto Rico back "20 to 30 years," thanks to the incredible damage done to its infrastructure, and the destruction of countless homes.
I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.
Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico last week as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest classification on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. A Category 5 storm is one with wind speeds in excess of 155 miles per hour.
It's unclear precisely how much money it will cost to repair the damage Puerto Rico suffered at the hands of Hurricane Maria, but it's almost assured to be an eye-popping number ― as detailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer, some are estimating that claims from the storm could exceed $100 billion. In short, this is something the people of Puerto Rico are going to be dealing with for years, not just weeks or months. And as such, it's of the utmost importance that the U.S. government pays it a proper amount of attention and care.