Lawrence visits Puerto Rico with delegation, prompting GOP attack

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield

Washington — Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence took part in a delegation to Puerto Rico over the weekend with about 35 other congressional Democrats, prompting criticism from Republican officials as the partial government shutdown entered its fourth week. 

Organizers hailed the trip as the largest group of sitting lawmakers to visit the Caribbean commonwealth — an effort to draw attention to those in Puerto Rico still suffering from the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat, returned from Puerto Rico before the first House votes on Monday evening. She said she learned the Federal Emergency Management Agency's hurricane relief funding hasn't been distributed and there are growing fears the money will be reallocated to construct Trump's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

More:Finley: Lawrence joins Puerto Rico beach party

But the trip drew criticism from Republicans including President Donald Trump, who accused Democrats of "celebrating" rather than negotiating with him. 

"I've been here all weekend. A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating something. I don't know. Maybe they're celebrating the shutdown," Trump told reporters Monday before himself departing for New Orleans. 

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel also slammed the delegation: "It’s time for them to get back to Washington and work to secure our border and reopen the government," she tweeted

Trump traveled to Louisiana on Monday to address the Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention. He was expected Monday night to host Clemson’s championship football team at the White House — a decision that has itself drawn criticism during the shutdown.

"There is still much work to be done in the areas of natural disaster in the United States and U.S. territories including the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; and this was the focus of this congressional gathering," Lawrence said in a statement. 

"Trump and the GOP have only themselves to blame for this senseless shutdown, and 800,000 of our federal workers and the American people who benefit from their skills and service are paying the price in the longest shutdown in American history. The president should stop holding the America people hostage while he continues to demand this expensive and ineffective wall."

Members of Congress went to the island commonwealth for the convention of Bold PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which said the trip had been planned for months, according to news reports. 

"We started planning this a year ago and just because there's a Trump shutdown, it doesn't mean that the world is going to stop," Bold PAC Chairman and U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-California, told the Hill newspaper.

"We appreciate and respect every single worker who's being punished by Donald Trump. But at the same time there's over 3.2 million Puerto Rican American citizens on this island that deserve for us to continue to do our job."

Trump's administration has been criticized for its response to Hurricane Maria. An estimated 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of the storm, according to a study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government.

The delegation's visit coincided with the opening of the Broadway hit "Hamilton" Saturday in San Juan, starring creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who took the touring production to Puerto Rico to raise money for hurricane relief. 

The Washington Post reported that members of Congress who attended a show paid for their own $500 tickets. 

"You’re here to work, despite what anyone might claim,” Miranda told lawmakers who attended the Latino Victory Fund summit Monday, according to the Post. “You’re working on behalf of people who are American citizens.”