Bi­den: Puerto Rico de­serves more re­spect than it’s given

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Joe Bi­den

Our pres­i­dent should be able to meet a sim­ple test: un­der­stand­ing that Puerto Ri­cans are Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, and that they are en­ti­tled to — and de­serve — the same sup­port from the United States gov­ern­ment as ev­ery cit­i­zen.

In­stead, Don­ald Trump has in­sulted Puerto Ri­cans and their lead­ers. He has aban­doned his re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide re­lief and to sup­port re­cov­ery on the is­land. Dur­ing his one visit in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Maria, he was un­able to of­fer even the barest ex­pres­sion of em­pa­thy or com­fort.

His be­hav­ior af­ter Maria — ly­ing about re­lief ef­forts, block­ing aid, mock­ing sur­vivors, rob­bing the is­land of the as­sis­tance it’s legally en­ti­tled to — is a stain on our na­tion. His ac­tions in­sult the mem­ory of the es­ti­mated nearly 3,000 souls who died dur­ing and af­ter the storm, as well as the over one mil­lion who have strug­gled with­out power in the wreck­age.

More than two years af­ter the storm, it’s un­con­scionable that so much of the hard work of re­cov­ery has been left un­done. We must re­build the is­land, and re­build trust — to make sure that Puerto Ri­cans have sound homes, schools, and hos­pi­tals; real op­por­tu­ni­ties; and a path to the mid­dle class. We need a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that brings peo­ple to­gether, in­stead of un­leash­ing the evils of big­otry and cal­lous in­hu­man­ity.

Yet, through all this, Puerto Ri­cans have in­sisted on hold­ing their lead­ers ac­count­able and forg­ing a new path for­ward. They have an­swered ne­glect with de­ter­mi­na­tion and en­gage­ment, and re­sponded to tragedy by reach­ing out to help one an­other. My wife saw it when she vis­ited the is­land six months af­ter the storm. It’s past time that Wash­ing­ton re­sponded with the re­spect and re­sources that Puerto Rico de­serves.

That means fi­nally de­liv­er­ing con­crete sup­port for Puerto Rico and get­ting out­stand­ing re­con­struc­tion as­sis­tance to com­mu­ni­ties faster. As pres­i­dent, I will cre­ate a fed­eral work­ing group for Puerto Rico to make sure the is­land has all the fed­eral re­sources and tech­ni­cal sup­port it needs. To en­sure that sup­port­ing Puerto Rico is an Ad­min­is­tra­tion-wide pri­or­ity, the work­ing group will con­sist of ad­vis­ers des­ig­nated by each fed­eral agency and led by a point per­son who will re­port di­rectly to me.

That also means boost­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, fight­ing for unions and work­ers’ rights, and pre­serv­ing pen­sions and pub­lic ser­vices on the is­land. It means pro­tect­ing Oba­macare and build­ing on it to de­liver qual­ity, af­ford­able health care, adding a pub­lic op­tion, and ex­pand­ing ac­cess to Med­i­caid, in­clud­ing ap­pro­pri­ate funding for Puerto Rico. It means tripling funding for Ti­tle I schools, whether on the main­land or on the is­land, to close the gap be­tween rich and poor dis­tricts. And it means ban­ning as­sault weapons and re­quir­ing back­ground checks on all gun sales.

We’re go­ing to ad­dress the ex­is­ten­tial threat of cli­mate change head-on by in­vest­ing $1.7 tril­lion in a clean en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion that will take our green­house gas emis­sions to net-zero by 2050, and in­vest­ing in the re­siliency of our com­mu­ni­ties so they never again ex­pe­ri­ence the cat­a­strophic im­pacts Puerto Rico ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria.

I will en­cour­age main­land com­pa­nies to in­vest in Puerto Rico and make sure the is­land is fully in­cluded in my $1.3 tril­lion in­fra­struc­ture plan, with new in­vest­ments in roads, bridges, power lines, and broad­band ac­cess cre­at­ing tens of thou­sands of new jobs — so that fewer peo­ple are forced to leave in search of op­por­tu­nity. And I will ex­pand pro­grams that sup­port is­land en­trepreneur­s and small busi­nesses, like the State Small Busi­ness Credit Ini­tia­tive, which has drawn tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in new in­vest­ment on the is­land, and pro­grams that will fur­ther ig­nite eco­nomic growth like the New Mar­kets Tax Credit pro­gram.

To­gether, we must also set a new tone of trans­par­ent and re­spon­sive gov­ern­ment — not only by in­sult­ing fel­low Amer­i­cans, whether in pri­vate text mes­sages or openly on Twit­ter; but by re­spect­ing them enough to launch a full gov­ern­ment ethics over­haul.

Re­build­ing also means con­fronting some hard truths about Wash­ing­ton’s legacy on the is­land. We must own past short­com­ings and em­brace a fu­ture of strength for Puerto Rico, with fair and equitable ties to Wash­ing­ton. I will en­gage Puerto Ri­cans — in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ev­ery sta­tus op­tion — in a process of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, lis­ten­ing and de­vel­op­ing fed­eral legislatio­n that out­lines a fair path for­ward. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ri­cans through­out our na­tion make the United States strong.

Don­ald Trump doesn’t get that. And he never will. So we must de­feat Don­ald Trump. It’s the foun­da­tion on which ev­ery other pol­icy, and ev­ery hope of progress across our na­tion, de­pends. It’s the sin­gle most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal act that we, to­gether as Amer­i­cans, can take — to re­build Puerto Rico, and to res­cue the char­ac­ter of our na­tion.

ETI­ENNE LAU­REN/EFE/EPA

For­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den says that as pres­i­dent he would de­liver con­crete sup­port for Puerto Rico and get out­stand­ing re­con­struc­tion as­sis­tance to com­mu­ni­ties faster.

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