Former Vice President Joe Bidden suspects that the officials at the White House had a botched response to Hurricane Maria because they did not realize people in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.

“It’s shameful, the way we treated Puerto Rico and the islands,” Biden said to an audience gathered in a union hall. “I’m not even sure people in the president’s administration knew Puerto Ricans are all citizens.”

“I’m not joking,” Biden continued. “And so there’s this notion of somehow, why should we have to make and invest that kind of money in dealing with what is a genuine existential crisis?”

House lawmakers passed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill on Monday that includes community development grants and nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico and other islands hit by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. It now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

The president has called officials in Puerto Rico “grossly incompetent” and accused them of misusing previously allocated hurricane relief funding.

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There have been more then 3000 deaths as a result of the hurricane. Trump has previously challenged the number, saying it is “not fair” to count deaths that happen weeks or months after the storm.

Biden is on a campaign swing in the early-voting state of New Hampshire. Earlier in the day, he talked to voters in Berlin and Plymouth.