The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House panel demands White House documents related to Puerto Rico hurricanes

In this Sept. 20, 2018, file photo, people gather outside the White House in Washington, during a vigil commemorating the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee demanded Tuesday that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney deliver information related to the Trump administration’s handling of the 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

The Democrats made the demand in a new letter sent to Mulvaney as a follow-up to one signed by every Democratic member of the committee in early May. The initial letter asked the White House to produce all communications about Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria hit, killing thousands of people and devastating the island’s infrastructure.

“The President’s public defiance of all congressional oversight not only obstructs us from fulfilling our responsibility under the Constitution to conduct credible oversight, but it also insults the memory of the Americans who lost their lives as a result of this disaster,” wrote Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on environment.

The White House’s lack of response on this issue is consistent with its refusal to comply with any of the House’s investigations into Trump, his administration and his policies.

Trump’s critics have accused him of making the situation in Puerto Rico worse by not prioritizing a government response as the administration did when hurricanes hit Texas and Florida during the same season. Trump has defended the White House response, claiming falsely that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion from the federal government.

Last month, Congress passed a disaster-relief bill that included an additional $1 billion in aid for Puerto Rico, overcoming objections from Trump, who accused the Puerto Rican government of mismanaging the hurricanes’ aftermath. In addition to Maria, Puerto Rico was also hit by Hurricane Irma during the 2017 season, and House Democrats also want information about the response to that storm.

Cummings and Rouda threatened “compulsory” action if they do not hear from the White House by July 10, but they did not expand on what that would be. A Democratic committee aide said it meant subpoenas.

Democrats similarly sent a request for information in October 2017 when they were in the minority, but they were ignored. The Democrats noted that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a request for related documents from George W. Bush’s administration was bipartisan and that Bush compiled.

“Your actions stand in stark contrast to the Bush Administration, which produced tens of thousands of documents in response to a nearly identical request,” Cummings and Rouda wrote. “The only difference is that far more people died in Puerto Rico in 2017 than as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.” (The hurricane was in 2005.)

The lawmakers also suggested that they would pursue legislative action to improve how the federal government prepares for and responds to these disasters, adding that the Trump administration “failed in at least some respects to learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina.”