Gutiérrez: ‘We Need a Lot More Than Paper Towels From the President and This Congress’

Oct 25, 2017
8:32 AM

The following is a Tuesday speech by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez on the floor of the House of Representatives:

Here is the transcript of the speech, as prepared by Gutiérrez’s office:

Floor Speech
October 24, 2017

Shortly after the President returned from his trip to Puerto Rico, I received a shipment in my office of paper towels.  It did not come with a note or an explanation, just 12 rolls of Viva.  I guess there is a little irony because the name is in Spanish.

Maybe after watching the President entertain himself by tossing paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, some well-intentioned person thought that giving paper towels to Puerto Ricans was an appropriate sign of respect, the gift you give to Puerto Ricans after a major disaster to kinda cheer us up.  Viva!

Having returned from my second trip to Puerto Rico since the hurricane, I can tell you one thing for sure: We need a lot more than paper towels from the President and this Congress.

[Pointing to board marked Loíza]  This is Loíza.  I was visiting with the Mayor.  I want you to look at the pictures.

This woman here [pointing to lower left corner of the board marked “Loíza”], she has a disabled adult sleeping on a wet mattress.  Yeah, sleeping on a wet mattress.  That’s the home where she takes care of her son.  Four weeks after the hurricane!  Children hiding behind barricades.  Homes destroyed.

[Replaces pictures marked “Loíza” with pictures marked “Comerío”]

This is Comerío.  Where food, four weeks after the hurricane because there is no food, has to be handed out neighborhood to neighborhood, hill top to hill top, hamlet and village to village within the town.

[Pointing to lower left corner photo of destroyed home.]

See this?  People sleep there on that bed.  Without tarps, because somehow we forgot that in a hurricane-destroyed society, it might be a good idea to have something over your head.

Of course the President said he gave himself a 10.  Tell that to the people who have to live there for four weeks.

I just came back from this trip on Saturday.  I am now not surprised that the Congressmen —my colleagues— are taking day trips to Puerto Rico.

Yes, that’s what we do as Members of Congress.  We get there at 9 o’clock during the sun of the day and we leave by 4 before the darkness comes, because of course there is no electricity.

And then they take us on a helicopter ride around the island.  That’s no way to visit.

You get off the plane and off the helicopter and you stay overnight when it’s pitch black, because that’s the way 3.4 million Americans citizens live.  One month after the hurricane!  That’s how they live.

So, I don’t know, maybe Congressmen should stop taking day trips where they get there by 9 and leave by 4.

Spend the night!  Get out of your comfort and go talk to the American citizens you are supposed to be representing.

[Replaces pictures marked “Comerío” with pictures marked “Toa Baja”]

America.  See this? [Pointing to damaged house in upper left corner.]

That’s a horse stable, an abandoned house where people live.  I met a thirteen year old girl who lives there with her mom and her twelve year old brother.  That’s where they live.

[Pointing to upper right corner.]

See this mom and her two kids?  No roof over their heads—just a little tarp to keep one part of their house, and no place to sleep.

See this man right here?  He lives in his abandoned house in a little tent with a two-month old child and his wife.

Disabled in a wheelchair, and no electricity to run his air tank so that he can get the vital air that he needs to sustain his life.  This is what I saw, and this was without the help of the federal government.  Because if you ask for help, they’ll put you on a helicopter, and take you on a nice tour, and you will not talk with or see anybody.

And I know that there are some in America who say that they should just do this for themselves.  Well guess what?  They’re citizens of the United States of America.  They’re a colony of the United States of America.

And I just ask America, there are over half a million people on that island who are homeless, whose homes have been destroyed, and our government… here’s the one question.  People kept asking me, no matter where I went, they said, “Where is FEMA?  Where is the help that we expect from the most powerful and richest nation on the earth in this moment of despair?”

Soon it will be out of the headlines.  Soon it will be out of the rotation.  And we will try to forget, but they will continue to suffer.

I came back on a flight from Puerto Rico this past Saturday night filled with people fleeing.  And I met this wonderful woman who said to me, “I have my child here, I’m dropping her with my sister so that she can be free.”

We would not allow this in Texas.  We would not allow this in New Jersey.  We would not allow this in Florida.  We did not allow it even after a week in Katrina.  Let’s not allow it in Puerto Rico either.