Touting a sign that read “Paper towels are not enough,” Jean Clark, a software developer from Silver Spring, Md., joined a few hundred others Wednesday on a march from the Capitol to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to protest what they say is an inadequate response by President Trump to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Clark said she was particularly incensed by Trump's visit to the U.S. territory after Hurricane Maria, during which he tossed paper towels to a crowd. She and other protesters want debt relief and more aid for the island.
“We have not forgotten you,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaking about Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as she addressed the crowd outside the Capitol. “You are our brothers and sisters. You are our fellow U.S. citizens. And you are part of our hearts.”
Trump last week announced that he may withdraw federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, where more than 80 percent of the island's 3.4 million people are still without power, and 75 percent do not have working cellphones. Residents are struggling to access food, clean water, gasoline and money.
“We are on the verge of a public health catastrophe,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito (D), speaker of the New York City Council, who came to the District for the march.
Mark-Viverito (D), a native of Puerto Rico, told The Washington Post that Trump at least tried, with varying degrees of success, to express empathy for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida.
“With Puerto Rico, he didn’t even try,” Mark-Viverito said. “He’s shown a real disrespect for the people of Puerto Rico. It’s like he is kicking us while we are down.”
Following a backlash at his suggestion that federal aid workers might be recalled from Puerto Rico, Trump appeared to try to reassure the island last week.
“The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H’s,” he tweeted. “I will always be with them!”
On Monday, Trump agreed with former FEMA director James Lee Witt's assessment that he would give the Trump administration an A-plus for its response to the string of hurricanes — including in Puerto Rico.
“They’ve maxed out probably how many people they could put there,” said Witt, a Democrat who ran the agency under President Bill Clinton. “I know they’re all working frantically, but sometimes that’s not enough.”