Rubio urges Trump to put Pentagon in charge of recovery in Puerto Rico

Franco Ordonez and Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Weather News

WASHINGTON -- As the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico spirals, Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump to put the U.S. military in charge of recovery efforts on the island.

The Florida Republican said the government in Puerto Rico does not have the capacity -- in money, staff or even communications resources -- to lead such a massive effort as more than 3 million American citizens struggle amid rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Rubio, who has emerged in recent months as a key adviser to the president on Latin American issues, said the Defense Department is the only institution with the organizational capabilities and logistics skills needed to confront the devastation.

"This is what they do," Rubio said Thursday. "They're the best responders to natural disasters on the planet. And we need to employ them."

Rubio, who clearly has the president's ear, is leading a growing chorus of politicians who have become dissatisfied with the Trump administration's response more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Puerto Rico is now suffering food shortages and is at risk of disease outbreak, and both local and federal officials are pressuring the Trump administration to dramatically ramp up its efforts.

"I would like to see the fire and fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

On Thursday, the Trump administration waived a law to allow foreign vessels to assist in Puerto Rico's relief effort. That decision came only after days of public pressure from lawmakers -- both Republicans and Democrats. Trump waived the Jones Act after other hurricanes hit Texas and Florida, but delayed this time, saying he needed to take the concerns of the shipping industry into consideration.

Rubio said things are now happening, but not quickly enough, and another agency with greater capacity with logistical and communication capabilities should be put in charge.

"We have no idea what is happening in a lot of parts of Puerto Rico," Rubio said. "We have no idea of the full magnitude. ... Nothing good happens after eight days in the tropics without food or water."

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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