House passes revamped disaster relief package despite Trump eruptions

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Damaged Florida home

The remains of a home that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael sits near the beach on May 9 in Mexico Beach, Florida. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

House Democrats pushed through another multibillion-dollar disaster aid offer Friday — a vote that will be in vain if they can’t strike a deal that defuses President Donald Trump’s hostility toward funneling more money to Puerto Rico.

In the legislative scheme of things, the passage vote is a negligible step given that there is no bipartisan accord yet. But the president raised the political stakes in the hours leading up to the roll call, warning House Republicans to fall in line with his opposition to the Democratic plan to send more than $19 billion in rebuilding assistance to communities hit by hurricanes, extreme flooding, tornadoes and wildfires.

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GOP lawmakers “should not vote for the BAD DEMOCRAT” aid package, Trump urged in a Twitter missive Thursday night, following up in a midnight proclamation that “Republicans must stick together!”

While 150 Republicans voted against the bill, 34 voted in support. A number of Republicans who backed the aid package represent states recovering from hurricanes and flooding, like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Nebraska.

The measure passed 257-150, allowing House Democrats to formally stake their latest negotiating position, four months after passing their first disaster aid offer in January. That initial bill has languished in the Senate amid failed test votes and pushback from the president, who has chimed in during the intervening months with insults against Puerto Rican officials and an insistence that the federal government has already given the U.S. territory more than enough money to rebuild from the Category 5 hurricanes that hit the island in 2017.

Following passage, Trump praised his party for a “great Republican vote,” saying on Twitter that “we will now work out a bipartisan solution that gets relief for our great States and Farmers” and urging Congress to “get me a Bill that I can quickly sign!”

For months, the president’s animosity has put congressional leaders in a bind as they look for a bipartisan path to delivering assistance to districts and states still hard up from the bruising weather events of the last few years. Even while Senate Republicans traded a new aid offer to Democrats on Thursday to get beyond the impasse over Puerto Rico, negotiators acknowledged that they won’t be able to bust through the gridlock without Trump’s backing.

Desperate to deliver some relief to their disaster-wrought communities, some Republican lawmakers have begun to publicly break with the president. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican who represents a rural slice of southern Georgia hit by Hurricane Michael last year, derided the White House this week over the delay in disaster aid to farmers.

“I appreciate the president’s favorable comments about the agricultural community,” Scott said. “But when things are then handed off to people at the Office of Management and Budget, who consider the American farmer and the American farm family nothing but subsidy-sucking freeloaders, then there’s a disconnect in what is actually coming out of the administration, and what the administration is telling us that they’re going to do.”

Many GOP lawmakers still banded with Trump in bucking the House’s latest aid plan Friday. Speaking on the floor, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it a “message vote” but suggested congressional leaders can resolve the stalemate in the coming days.

“I know that we can do better,” the minority leader said. “I’ve spoken to the president. I’ve spoken to the leader on the Senate side. I believe that we can solve this all by next week.”

Democrats’ original bill totaled about $17 billion, but an additional $2 billion in amendments was tacked on.

For example, before passage, the House adopted several amendments by voice vote, including one from Republican Rep.Del. Amata Radewagen, who serves as Congress’ delegate from American Samoa, to increase nutrition assistance from $5 million to $18 million for the U.S. territory.

The House also agreed to add in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy to rebuild military installations hit by hurricanes last year, plus $310 million in additional funding for the Department of Agriculture’s emergency watershed program and a $500 million increase for the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program.

Democrats rejected a GOP effort that would have added about $2.9 billion to deal with the costs of caring for unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), in a heated floor speech, said Democrats are waiting on more information from the White House about the president’s recent request for billions to handle humanitarian and security needs at the border.

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