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 1 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 not 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.
Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States, is a Democratic candidate for president. He wrote this for The Orlando Sentinel.