House Dems renew probe on hurricane response in Puerto Rico

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are seeking documents from the Trump administration on U.S. response to deadly 2017 hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who chairs the oversight panel, said the White House ignored his requests for documents related to the storms when Democrats were in the minority in the House.

With Democrats now in the majority, Cummings and other Democrats said they will push to re-establish a "credible and bipartisan" investigation of the administration's response to the hurricanes, which killed more than 3,000 people and caused more than $100 billion in damages.

"Despite the Oversight Committee's bipartisan history ... Republicans actively blocked all Democratic requests over the past two years while President (Donald) Trump heaped scorn on the very people who lost thousands of their loved ones," Democrats wrote in a letter to Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff.

The administration has been able to evade oversight of its poor response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma because Republicans who controlled Congress refused to perform their constitutionally required role, Democrats said.

The letter comes as Congress and the White House bicker over disaster aid to Puerto Rico and other areas hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Trump has feuded with Democratic officials on the U.S. territory and has sharply criticized Puerto Rico's handling of the hurricanes.

At issue is a $14 billion — and growing — disaster aid measure that was blocked by Senate Democrats last month in a standoff over Puerto Rico. Democrats are demanding additional funding to help repair the island's water systems and to give the cash-poor territory disaster aid on more generous terms. Trump has already agreed to $600 million in food aid to restore cuts to Puerto Rico's food stamp benefits.

"The Trump administration is committed to the complete recovery of Puerto Rico. The island has received unprecedented support and is on pace to receive tens of billions of dollars from taxpayers," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email.

Democrats said Monday that former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chaired the oversight panel the past two years, refused multiple requests by Cummings to demand hurricane-related documents from the Trump administration.

"As a result the White House has never turned over a single piece of paper to the committee ... relating to its response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Democrats wrote.