Ignoring Trump, House approves new disaster aid bill

Brushing aside opposition from the White House, the U.S. House gave bipartisan approval on Friday to $19 billion in relief aid to help Americans hit by hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, and other disasters, though the vote brought Congress seemingly no closer to final agreement on a plan, as President Donald Trump continues to publicly object to extra disaster relief for the island of Puerto Rico.

"Those impacted have their patience stretched thin and cannot wait any longer for disaster assistance," said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), as a parade of lawmakers from both parties urged approval of aid for floods in the Midwest, wildfires in California, and hurricane damage in the southeast.

"It should not be taking this long to provide the necessary and vital funding for these locations," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).

"Mr. Speaker, Nebraskans need relief," said Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) about major floods this spring. "The impact of this storm continues to be felt across our state."

"It is unfortunate that our colleagues in the Senate have not acted," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), as Democrats approved a $14 billion disaster aid bill back in January - which has been stuck in the Senate for almost four months, mainly because of the President's opposition to extra aid for Puerto Rico.

Thursday night, and again on Friday morning, President Trump urged GOP lawmakers in the House to vote against the disaster relief bill - even though it would help many in their own districts and states.

The President gave no examples of what he opposed in the bill - other than his repeated complaints about the amount of money approved for Puerto Rico, to help recover from hurricane damage in 2017.

Congress has approved $41 billion for Puerto Rico; the Trump Administration has sent $13 billion of that money to the island.

This latest bill from the House contained $600 million in specific food aid for Puerto Rico.

"The President has said he's not going to sign it," said House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who saw a number of Republicans break ranks with the White House, and vote for the bill.

Despite the President's opposition, Republicans joined with Democrats to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the bill on Friday to help rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and make major repairs at Marine Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

"The United States Air Force is in desperate need of our help," said Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL), whose district includes Tyndall Air Force Base, which was decimated by Hurricane Michael.

"In my district, we have three million acres of land that is crushed - crushed," Dunn said on the House floor, who said the storm was more like an 80 mile wide tornado.

"This was one of the most destructive weather events in our lifetimes," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who joined in adding money to help with Offutt Air Force Base in him home state.

"It's pretty jarring to stand on a ridge and look at an Air Force Base one third under water," Fortenberry said of the flooding which hit Iowa, Nebraska and other states.

By voice vote, the House approved an extra $300 million in military construction money for the Air Force, $385 million for the Marines, and added $270 million in operations and maintenance money for the Air Force - all to deal with cleanup and repairs at Tyndall and Offutt.

“This is only a down payment,” Dunn said.

The House also voted to add $5 million to help improve weather forecasting efforts to deal with future storms - but that vote was almost all along party lines.

What's next remains unclear, as Democratic leaders said the Senate should simply approve this bill, regardless of the President's opposition.

"I urge the Senate to take up this bill and send it to the President without any further delay," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Republicans in the Senate made a new offer Thursday night in ongoing negotiations over a disaster aid bill, which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said included "billions" more in aid for Puerto Rico.

But there were no signs that either the new House bill - or the new GOP offer - had broken the logjam on aid.

"They’ve waited long enough and, frankly, they can’t afford to wait any longer," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).

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