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White House Pulls Plug On Congressional Flights to Puerto Rico

by Countable | 9.29.17

What’s the story?

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House and Pentagon are restricting any further travel by Members of Congress to Puerto Rico via military transport. Delegations were scheduled to travel to the island this weekend to witness the devastation first hand and assess the status of the federal response.

The White House told NBC News, "The White House, DHS, and DOD, working together, are asking to hold on any Puerto Rico/USVI travel outside of missions directly related to lifesaving and life-sustaining relief."

Why does it matter?

Despite Puerto Ricans being American citizens, the island is technically a commonwealth and only has a non-voting representative to Congress, Rep. Jennifer González-Colón. Puerto Ricans depend on the leverage of voting Members of Congress with large Puerto Rican populations to help pressure Congress and the White House to attend to the needs of the commonwealth.

One such lawmaker, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), plans to take a bipartisan delegation of 10 lawmakers to Puerto Rico on Friday to assess needs and the federal response directly. On Wednesday, he tweeted his disapproval with the administration’s restrictions on travelling to the island:

It is unclear yet how Menendez will be able to accomplish the trip following the administration’s new restriction, but they are working on it. Deputy Communications Director Juan Pachón told Countable in an email:

"I can confirm that Senator Menendez was the lead organizer of a bipartisan [Congressional Delegation] to Puerto Rico with several members. The information in regards to the restrictions by the [administration] is correct as reported by the Post. Our office is now trying to figure out alternatives to make this happen as the situation on the island is extremely dire and my boss is eager to get down there to assess the federal response thus far. Stay tuned as we make progress on this."

According to Rep.González-Colón’s office, of the three airports on the island, only San Juan airport is currently open to commercial travel. Airports in Ponce and Aguadilla are currently restricted solely to military and relief flights.

As of Tuesday the New York Times reported that the San Juan airport was accommodating 36 flights per hour, which is far below pre-Hurricane Maria levels. Additionally, only military and relief operation flights are allowed at the airport between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. Air traffic control capacity is only at about 20 percent, so it is much harder to direct planes to and from the island.

Two members of Congress have been able to reach the island since the storm, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Velázquez, who is originally from Puerto Rico and now represents parts of Brooklyn, has been publicly critical of the administration’s response to the crisis. She referenced former President George W. Bush’s response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which many saw as inadequate, to CNN on Tuesday, "This is going to be Mr. Trump’s Katrina."

Sen. Rubio has been careful to not criticize the current federal response and instead focus on advocating for increased attention and aid. He traveled to the island Monday and has been tweeting about the state of the crisis constantly since the storm hit:

What do you think?

Should the White House restrict congressional travel to the island via military transport? Is this an understandable step to focus resources in the midst of a crisis, or an attempt to limit potentially critical eyes on the relief effort?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Department of Defense / Creative Commons)

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(166)
  • Pam
    09/28/2017
    ···

    Might I suggest interested representatives contact JetBlue, the airline that I work for, as they are flying dozens of relief flights to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands? The governor of New York went down to San Juan on JetBlue last week bringing workers and supplies for hurricane relief. The stories from my coworkers coming from the islands affected by Maria are desperate and heartbreaking and the fact that trump is making it more difficult for representatives to see for themselves only proves to me his hatred for nonwhites.

    Like (128)
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  • Heather
    09/29/2017
    ···

    I'd rather pay for military jets to assist Puerto Rico than Air Force 1 to fly to Mar a Lago.

    Like (86)
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  • Adrienne
    09/28/2017
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    Congressman Gutierrez is booked on a commercial flight to PR tomorrow and a hotel room to find out what their needs are and bring it back. Plus do what he can while he's there. Proactive!

    Like (55)
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  • Lindsay
    09/28/2017
    ···

    Please still send a bipartisan delegation to assess the damage and come up with a long term plan for the people of Puerto Rico. I can’t help but feel that the President is trying to hide or censor what American lawmakers and citizens will see. Stand up to this dictator-like nonsense.

    Like (53)
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  • Timothy
    09/28/2017
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    You cannot forbid going to American territory!! Outrageous and illegal. Impeach!!!

    Like (50)
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  • Ed
    09/28/2017
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    This is an effort to Hide the Disaster and the Lack of Effective Organized Effort by this administration just a was with Katrina

    Like (40)
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  • Richard
    09/28/2017
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    The White House needs to go back to worrying about the NFL and let Congress manage real world problems.

    Like (36)
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  • Wendy
    09/29/2017
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    Funny how it took so long to mildly reprimand Price for using private planes at taxpayers expense and the WH (Trump) is so quick to deny transport for these reps to PR. He doesn’t want them to get there before him and expose the lies he’s been telling about what a great job he’s doing.

    Like (31)
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  • Neal
    09/28/2017
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    Congress DOES NOT work for tRump!! PR needs serious minded people with power to see their devastation and listen to them! What they DON'T need is tRump there with his BS and getting in their way! HELP THE PEOPLE of PR!

    Like (30)
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  • Jody
    09/28/2017
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    Booooo! Puerto Rico is part of America and should be taken care of! And viewed! If mr Price can waste tons of tax payer dollars galavanting around the country then our elected officials could visit and help Puerto Rico.

    Like (27)
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  • Robert
    09/28/2017
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    This is the way Putin would handle it. Trump must be still getting advice from Russia. This administration is a disgrace to the American people.

    Like (27)
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  • Colleen
    09/29/2017
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    Apparently it’s okay for some of the cabinet secretaries to fly luxurious private jets that cost taxpayers big bucks. But not okay for members of Congress to hitch a ride on a military plane to view the damage in Puerto Rico so we Americans can help our fellow Americans. When are people going to get it into their heads that this administration does not care about average Americans and that includes the Common Wealth of PR! Members of Congress-guess you better fly coach just like the rest of us! #ImpeachTrump

    Like (22)
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  • Dave
    09/29/2017
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    What a blatant move to limit empathy for our commonwealth. It is an effort to play to Mr. Trump's base and it is inhumane. Serious relief efforts would not only generate tremendous gratitude but kickstart a significant economic boom...something the island badly needs. My goodness, this could have been our finest hour and instead we're going to generate significant resentment in Puerto Rico.

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  • Gail
    09/28/2017
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    Save Puerto Rico.

    Like (18)
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  • Brian
    09/28/2017
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    It’s ok for trump and his cronies to use tax dollars and private planes for there questionable activities but when senators need to go and get a understanding of the issues facing fellow citizens and the developing crisis are told no they can’t go stinks of corruption at the highest level

    Like (14)
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  • Dea
    09/28/2017
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    Since Congress will authorize relief spending, they should be allowed to visit the island.

    Like (12)
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  • PLD
    09/28/2017
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    Trump is one big embarrassing man-child!

    Like (11)
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  • Shawn
    09/29/2017
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    As long as a congressman's butt is not replacing a case of water, medicine, food or other important cargo why not allow them to hitch a ride on a scheduled flight? I know President Trump may have trouble getting to Puerto Rico, but that doesn't mean Congress can't try to get something done. There seems to be a lot of misdirection going on here.

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  • Bill
    09/28/2017
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    That is irrational to restrict flights to PR. Donnie wants to be a lone hero to the people which is just wrong. Congress must know what is going on. Trump is not God and they do not work for him.

    Like (7)
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  • Fragadactilobs
    09/29/2017
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    Wow what a surprise. Trump, once again, proves he’s a huge prick.

    Like (6)
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