Sun editorial:

Trump’s lies about Puerto Rico stand between Americans, much-needed aid


Dennis M. Rivera / AP

This June 18, 2018, file photo shows an aerial view of lingering hurricane damage in the Amelia neighborhood in the municipality of Catano, east of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

With the House’s passage last week of a $19 billion package in disaster relief, Senate Republicans face a choice that should be based on moral grounds and not politics.

They either abet President Donald Trump in prolonging human suffering in Puerto Rico, or they provide disaster relief for inhabitants of the island and their fellow Americans stateside.

On Friday, 34 Republicans made the right call by ignoring Trump’s demand for support of his naked cruelty and bigotry, and instead supporting the House’s aid package, which would provide funding both for Puerto Rico and states that have endured floods, fires and other catastrophic events.

Trump opposes the measure based on his false contention that Puerto Rico has received more than enough aid following Hurricane Maria in 2017. Last week, he reiterated his often-repeated lie that $91 billion in relief had been sent to the island.

For the umpteenth time, it’s necessary to correct him. Here are the key facts, which have been widely reported:

• The $91 billion figure was an estimate of how much aid the island would need to recover, and it was on the high end. The estimate had nothing to do with actual funding provided — it was about the damage to the island.

• About $40 billion has been committed for the relief effort.

• Puerto Rico has spent about $11 billion in its recovery.

The House bill, which passed on a 257-150 vote, serves as a de facto acknowledgement that the disaster response to the island has been slow and ineffective. That’s appropriate, because there’s absolutely no question that Puerto Rico continues to struggle. Homes remain unrepaired and infrastructure remains unreliable. This spring, locals were still advising visitors not to drink the tap water.

Yes, after 19 months, there are still concerns over something as elemental as water quality. That would simply be unthinkable in a disaster zone in a state.

Yet Trump and his Republican enablers would rather withhold relief to all Americans than approve a package that includes help for Puerto Rico. Before the House vote, Trump tweeted a vague threat that “Republicans must stick together!” in rejecting the bill. What he actually wanted was slavish devotion to him.

The GOP lawmakers who bucked Trump get points for serving their constituents instead of the president. Many were from states that have been hammered by disasters, including Florida, Texas and Georgia.

But unfortunately for disaster-stricken Americans everywhere, the House bill’s fate is iffy at best in the Senate. Republicans in that chamber are pushing for a bill that would include less or no funding for the island.

Meanwhile, relief has been stalled since April, an increasing concern given the rise of extreme-weather events brought on across America by climate change. With wildfires of unprecedented intensity breaking out, massive hurricanes coming one after another and rising sea levels putting coastal areas at greater risk of flooding, the need for funding is more urgent than ever.

Yet Trump would rather scapegoat and vilify Puerto Rico than allow a universal aid package to go through. He hammered the island again at a recent rally in Florida, making the false claim that providing more funding to the territory would reduce the amount available for other areas.

It was another repulsive moment by Trump, whose actions toward the island have been full of them. He claims he’s reacting to mismanagement of federal funding, but it’s plain to see that the real source of his problem is with being criticized by Puerto Rican leaders over the hurricane response.

Nor should it be lost on anyone that Puerto Rico is a majority Latino area — a group Trump consistently vilifies.

So now, relief to Americans is jammed up due to pettiness of an imperious president more interested in his personal vengeance and prejudices than the welfare of our citizens.

Against that backdrop, here’s hoping that the votes of those 34 House Republicans can have some influence in the Senate.

This shouldn’t be a political matter. It’s a humanitarian issue, and it affects every single American.

If the Senate fails to pass the bill, Americans should demand the lawmakers refusing to aid other Americans explain why. And the constituents of those Senators should pray a natural disaster never strikes them because their representative has let down Americans in a time of need.