The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced on Monday that it would begin an investigation into the Trump Administration’s response to the 2017 hurricanes that decimated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, led the charge in a letter addressed to the Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulaney and the White House, which was signed by all 24 Democratic members of the committee. They also sent letters to FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Democratic committee members outlined their reasoning behind the investigation, writing to Mulvaney that the investigation is necessary because over the past two years, “the Republicans who led the Committee refused to join Democrats in sending even one request for document.” In 2017, then-Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, denied Rep. Cumming’s request to ask the Trump Administration for documents relating to relief efforts, as the committee did when Democrats tried to investigate the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
They continued, writing that,“the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether any of our nation’s disaster response laws need to be amended and improved.” In the letter, Rep. Cummings gave all three institutions a deadline of May 20 to respond to the requests for documents.
As has been widely reported, approximately 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. Trump has falsely denied those numbers, saying instead, with absolutely no basis in reality, that his White House was “incredibly successful” in their emergency response efforts. Moreover, he’s continued to vastly overstate the amount of financial relief the U.S. government has allotted Puerto Rico (or, as a member of his White House calls it, “that country.”) On Monday, in a pair of social media message sent in response to the congressional Democrats’ decision to hold up a federal relief bill, Trump wrote that “Puerto Rico should be very happy” with the assistance they’ve received.
The investigation is an overdue, necessary step, so seeing House Democrats take a stand in the name of justice for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is a promising sign. Whether FEMA, HHS, and Trump play ball and get back to them in the next two weeks, however, is another story altogether.