As Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló travels to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats is asking the administration about the accuracy of the island territory’s death toll.
Thirteen senators, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have written a new letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke expressing concern that reports about morgues at Puerto Rican hospitals being full may signal that the official tally of 48 fatalities may be incomplete.
“An accurate death toll is important for understanding the true severity of the situation on the ground, for recognizing potential problems and vulnerabilities, for assessing the quality of the disaster response so far, and for setting policy going forward,” the senators wrote.
Four weeks since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, more than 80 percent of residents remain without electricity, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Access to fresh food, clean water and medicine remains scarce in many parts of the island.
Warren was joined by her colleague from Massachusetts, Sen. Edward J. Markey, along with members of the Senate Democratic conference from across the country in signing the letter to Duke.
They wrote they were echoing concerns previously raised by Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nydia Velázquez of New York.
Thompson is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, and Velázquez was born in Puerto Rico.
“The aftermath of the hurricane continues to pose a mortal danger to many people on Puerto Rico,” the senators wrote. “There are concerns about dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. Puerto Ricans have been obtaining water from a contaminated Superfund site.”
The Capitol Hill twitterverse was not pleased to see the news that Cups & Company in the Russell Senate Office building could lose its contract and have to end services. One woman is taking action.
All the way from New York, where she now lives, Rebecca Christopher has started a petition. She left Capitol Hill in 2009 where she most recently was a press assistant to Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin.
“I really have, like most, I assume, people in D.C., had been kept alive by Cups for many years,” Christopher said. “You guys broke this Cups story and I, as someone who has a lot of my Hill memories attached to Cups, was mad about it.”
The fact that Durbin’s Whip office is in the Capitol, where there aren’t as many food options as inside the Senate Office buildings, helped establish her Cups love.
“The Whip office has a little nook in the actual Capitol basement. That part of the Hill is a complete impossible-to-get-coffee desert,” she said. “And it’s freezing there so Cups is very life-giving.”
She started her petition, Save Cups, through the Action Network. As of Thursday afternoon, it had seven signatures.
“If democracy is sacred to us, Cups is one of the most authentic places of its worship - from a moment of quiet contemplation about a draft, to the true bipartisanship of a shared wince between strangers when someone spills boiling hot coffee on themselves,” the petition reads. “Cups is where our laws are written, our values are affirmed and questioned.”
Christopher said if it gets at least 10 signatures, she will send it to the Architect of the Capitol’s office, who is in charge of deciding if Cups gets to keep its contract.
“We’ll see what actually happens with that,” she said. “I’m sure that the Architect of the Capitol’s evaluation process doesn’t have room for an online petition. If it’s 10 [signatures], that’s not pathetic, it’s at least funny enough to do, honestly.”
She may have started the first effort, but probably not the last, to keep Cups in the Capitol.
“It seems like one of those things that someone eventually was going to do,” Christopher said, adding that she’s “like a lot of people in D.C., the second you’re mad about it, you make a petition.”
House and Senate Republicans are likely to wrangle over their competing budget resolutions to pave the way for a tax overhaul, says CQ budget reporter Ryan McCrimmon, who also explains why disaster aid is likely to increase.
Lowey, top Dem on Approps, says Congress should add funding to Trump request, for CDBG, repairing roads, ports, coastlines, etc.
Bob Corker, very excited about sitting in this budget markup right now.