On the morning of January 14, Fox News focused heavily on a group of over 30 Democrats, most of them members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who spent the weekend in Puerto Rico as part of an annual retreat. Fox spun this trip as the Democrats partying “on the beaches” instead of working to end the government shutdown.
Democrats were actually in Puerto Rico for a retreat organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Bold PAC. According to The Hill, Bold PAC chair Tony Cárdenas said “he chose Puerto Rico for this year's convention to showcase the island's needs as it slowly recovers from 2017's Hurricane Maria.” NBC News reported that members of Congress sought to aid the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria by bringing medical supplies and discussing the neglected recovery with Puerto Rican political leaders, including Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and several top legislators.
Democrats also attended a performance of Hamilton, part of a special limited-time run in which creator and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda reprised his role to help raise funds for hurricane recovery. According to The Hill, Miranda said, “We brought Hamilton here to bring a spotlight to Puerto Rico” and its recovery. All Democrats who attended bought their tickets with their own money.
NBC News also reported that “The Bold PAC conference was scheduled for Puerto Rico months before the shutdown” and that the group would be monitoring the shutdown and its developments. The report also noted that the congressional members would “be able to get a bird's-eye view of how the shutdown is affecting the island that is trying to pull itself out of a financial crisis while recovering with the devastation of Category 4 Hurricane Maria."
While Fox News did mention that it was “a work-play trip,” most of its 19 mentions or segments about the story between 6 a.m. and noon on January 14 were intended to create an image of Democrats ducking their responsibility to help end the government shutdown (which Fox News helped start) and instead vacationing in paradise while real Americans suffer.
Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that “the optics are not good” for the Democrats when “there are 800,000 [federal] workers that aren’t getting paid,” but members of Congress who are “supposed to be doing something in Washington” are instead “on the beaches with their families.” Fellow co-host Brian Kilmeade also falsely claimed that CBS and NBC didn’t cover the story, when both networks covered the story online before Monday.
Fox & Friends opened its 8 a.m. hour with the line “President Trump says it’s time for Democrats to get off the beach and come back to work while the shutdown enters day 24.”
Kilmeade said that the Democrats were “even enjoying a Broadway show" in Puerto Rico. Fox & Friends First co-host Rob Schmitt, who is covering the story in Puerto Rico, reported, “There have been some meetings and there has been some work done. But there’s also been plenty of leisure time.” He also complimented Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) “great Instagram photo,” saying he’s “got the nice tan going.”
Kilmeade also asked counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway about the White House’s reaction to “the Democrats partying in Puerto Rico rather than staying” in Washington, D.C.
Fox correspondent Doug McKelway compared the Democrats’ Puerto Rico trip to Trump’s normally frequent golfing excursions, commenting that Trump “has been picking his travels very, very carefully” with the government shutdown, and during these times “playing golf, not such a good thing, visits to Puerto Rico, not such a good thing.”
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized the “30 Democratic members” for going “down on some PAC event where they’re soliciting money from lobbyists in Puerto Rico and hanging out on the beach.”
Fox re-aired Trump’s highly misleading comment that “the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating” the government shutdown.
Miranda addressed the controversy at the summit in Puerto Rico as he thanked the Democrats and other officials assembled for being “here to work, despite what anyone might claim.”