Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón. Photo: Bridget Mulcahy / POLITICO

By Edward-Isaac Dovere
17 October 2017

(Politico) – Just before the interview starts, Jenniffer González-Colón tries four different numbers she’s been trying to reach back home in Puerto Rico. She gets the same error message for all of them. Can’t connect.

One call that does come through is from the White House, which is trying to explain away the president’s tweets warning that the federal response to Hurricane Maria wouldn’t go on forever. Her reaction was off the record.

González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in Congress, is using what limited power she has to wheedle, cajole and beg agencies to help with an island territory she says has been put back a century—some 86 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without electricity, three weeks after the hurricane knocked out the island’s power grid, and 29 percent don’t even have potable water.

She’s calling in favors and firing off text messages to get patients dialysis or chemotherapy, with no time to think about the damage to her own house. González-Colón happened to be home during the storm, and she was literally holding the door closed. Now in Washington to lobby for a more vigorous relief effort, she’s anxious about all the damage that continues to mount from rain that keeps coming down on homes that don’t have roofs anymore.

“Your life,” González-Colón told me with tears in her eyes during an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, “is like stopping without knowing what is going to happen next.”

Days after we spoke, on Monday, President Donald Trump was standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, explaining why he shouldn’t be blamed for a lackluster hurricane response that has exasperated Puerto Ricans and infuriated many other Americans back on the mainland.

Trump cited the pre-existing debt, said the island “was in really bad shape” before the storm, ripped local authorities for making the military participate in handing out food in a way that “they shouldn’t have to be doing,” and insisted he’d been doing an “outstanding job.”

The word González-Colón—a lifelong Republican—kept using to describe presidential statements like this is “shocking.”

Two weeks ago, she hitched a ride on Air Force One to San Juan, and came back with a red Make America Great Again hat signed by the president and what seemed like commitments to the recovery. She doesn’t understand why the president, having seen the disaster with his own eyes, hasn’t prioritized federal resources and instead issued threats.

Does the president get what is going on? I asked her.

“You know what?” she answered. “Maybe I’m going to be nice here: I don’t know.” She was clearly choosing her words carefully.

“This is not the time to be talking about withdrawing the help,” she continued, a flash of anger in her voice. “This is not the time to talk about how much it’s costing the U.S., because we are American citizens.” [more]

Puerto Rico Rep. Calls Trump Comments ‘Shocking’

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