White House Won't Let Lawmakers Travel To Puerto Rico

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Members of Congress are being told by the Trump administration that they cannot travel to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands on military aircraft because the planes need to stay focused on recovery efforts on the island. 

Multiple lawmakers from both parties have recently tried to arrange trips to Puerto Rico, which was recently devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria, only to be denied permission to travel on military aircraft, according to The Washington Post. 

One Republican aide told The Post that military and administration officials say they need "resources for rescue and recovery, thus member travel will be restricted." 

Two groups of congress members from the House and Senate aimed to visit the island over the last weekend in September. There, they would meet with military and FEMA officials overseeing the recovery efforts. 

The news comes as the White House is stepping up recovery efforts and aid for the island territory. Politico reports that the increased response is due to widespread public criticism that frustrated the president and White House officials.

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President Donald Trump is set to travel to Puerto Rico and possibly the U.S. Virgin Islands on Oct. 3, saying at a news conference that is the earliest date he can travel without disrupting relief missions, according to The Post. 

New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have reportedly already made it to the island. Rubio traveled on a U.S. Coast Guard plane while Velazquez came as part of a delegation from New York that included Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Velazquez was born in Puerto Rico. 

Another lawmaker, Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago plans to travel to the island via a private commercial plane, according to The Post. Gutierrez is Puerto Rican and owns a house on the island. 

A "tremendous" amount of supplies is being sent to Puerto Rico, Trump said. 

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"I grew up in New York so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans, and these are great people. And we have to help them," he said, according to Politico. 

On Sept. 28, Trump waived the Jones Act, a law that states all shipments between the U.S. and Puerto Rico must be carried on U.S. flag vessels, according to The Post. 

The move is intended to speed the delivery of relief, but critics say it will do little since deliveries to the island have not slowed. The problem, according to The Post, is that once goods are on the island, they are not being distributed to the people who need them.

​Sources: The Washington Post (2), Politico / Featured Image: Arturo de la Barrera/Flickr / Embedded Images: Atlus Air Force BaseShealah Craighead/The White House

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