Marco Rubio says Puerto Rico's challenges require a "more aggressive" federal response

Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that the recovery effort in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria requires a "more aggressive" response from the federal government.

"We need to lean into this a lot more than we traditionally would because Puerto Rico's government says their own capacity has been tested by two storms and a fiscal crisis," the Florida Republican said at a press conference on Capitol Hill after meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other officials at the White House about the situation.

Rubio, who visited Puerto Rico on Monday, said it's clear from the Trump administration's announcement Tuesday that the federal government is ramping up and increasing the intensity in the response. The president, who will visit the island next Tuesday, amended the Puerto Rico disaster declaration to make additional federal funding available.

Normally, Rubio said that the federal government responds to a storm by plugging into the existing response of a state and it works from that structure to distribute aid. Rubio, however, said that model won't work in this case because Puerto Rico has been stricken by two natural disasters, faces significant fiscal and financial constraints and because of the sheer scope of the damage. The senator said that the island has experienced a 100 percent power outage, a 100 percent communications outage and significant infrastructure damage.

There are "still a lot of challenges," Rubio said, such as the inability to drive restoration trucks on the island. Instead, he said that aid must be shipped there by either barge or plane. Rubio said, for example, that a barge is leaving for Puerto Rico Wednesday and won't arrive for five to six days.

Rubio warned that if aid doesn't get to Puerto Rico fast enough, "This could rapidly escalate," alluding to the nursing home patients who died in Florida following Hurricane Irma earlier this month. 

  • Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.