Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Thursday he would not be able to speak at the Women’s March’s first annual National Women’s Convention next week.
The Vermont senator will instead be traveling to the hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“I want to apologize to the organizers of the Women’s Convention for not being able to attend your conference next Friday in Detroit. Given the emergency situation in Puerto Rico, I will be traveling there to visit with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and other officials to determine the best way forward to deal with the devastation the island is experiencing," he said in a statement.
"The U.S. Congress cannot turn its back on the millions of people in Puerto Rico who, four weeks after the hurricane, are still without electricity, food and running water," he added.
The senator’s decision to visit the island territory comes after he faced fierce backlash from feminists for speaking at a women’s event.
A petition by more than 11,000 people was also signed asking the organizers of the convention to reconsider Sanders’s role.
"We feel that by inviting Sen. Sanders, the organizers of the Women's Convention have turned their backs on any sense of unity that the Women's March embodied in order to further one person's political career," the petition read.
Earlier this week the organizers announced Michigan Congresswomen Debbie Dingell and Brenda Lawrence would play key roles at the event, with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow serving as opening speaker. Sanders, they said, would only be part of a speaking panel.
After he made his announcement Thursday, the organizers said they would miss him.