House passes $36.5 mil­lion dis­as­ter re­lief bill af­ter dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­canes

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The House over­came a con­ser­va­tive re­bel­lion Thurs­day to pass a new round of dis­as­ter re­lief, say­ing the $36.5 bil­lion is needed to re­plen­ish funds that are quickly de­plet­ing in the wake of hur­ri­canes that have bat­tered Texas, Flor­ida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The over­whelm­ing 353-69 vote came even as Pres­i­dent Trump sug­gested fed­eral emer­gency work­ers can­not re­main in Puerto Rico “for­ever” — and Car­men Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, ac­cused Mr. Trump of “geno­cide” for what she said was an an­tipa­thy to­ward her is­land ter­ri­tory.

“I ask ev­ery Amer­i­can that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico and let this Pres­i­dent know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE,” the mayor said in a state­ment she sent to Rep. Luis V. Gu­tier­rez, Illi­nois Demo­crat, and asked him to pub­li­cize on Capi­tol Hill.

“I ask the United Na­tions, UNICEF and the world to stand with the peo­ple of Puerto Rico and stop the geno­cide that will re­sult from the lack of ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion of a Pres­i­dent that just does not get it be­cause he has been in­ca­pable of look­ing in our eyes and see­ing the pride that burns fiercely in our hearts and souls,” the mayor con­tin­ued.

The mayor and the pres­i­dent have been feud­ing for weeks, with Mr. Trump say­ing the fed­eral govern­ment is fully in­vested, and say­ing the hur­dles to re­cov­ery are on the is­land it­self.

Ear­lier on Thurs­day, Mr. Trump, in a tweet, warned that fed­eral emer­gency help couldn’t go on in­def­i­nitely.

“We can­not keep FEMA, the Mil­i­tary & the First Re­spon­ders, who have been amaz­ing (un­der the most dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances) in P.R. for­ever!” the pres­i­dent said.

That set off a round of hand-wring­ing among re­porters and Trump op­po­nents who won­dered what spurred the com­ment, and called it a “threat” to the ter­ri­tory.

One re­porter, in a press briefing with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, de­manded to know whether Mr. Trump ac­cepted that Puerto Ri­cans are Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens and de­serve the same help as Texas and Flor­ida have got­ten. Mr. Kelly af­firmed both state­ments.

The re­porter then de­manded to know why Mr. Trump had tweeted “that we can’t be in Puerto Rico for­ever.” Mr. Kelly cor­rected her, say­ing the pres­i­dent had spec­i­fied that “the U.S. mil­i­tary and FEMA can’t be there for­ever.”

“The minute you go any­where as a first re­spon­der — and this would ap­ply, cer­tainly, to the mil­i­tary — you are try­ing very hard, work­ing very hard to work your­self out of a job,” said Mr. Kelly, a re­tired Marine Corps gen­eral.

While Puerto Rico is claim­ing the lion’s share of at­ten­tion, and is likely to get most of the money from the new dis­as­ter bill, it’s just one of the crises the leg­is­la­tion is in­tended to ad­dress.

There’s $577 mil­lion in­cluded to fight wild­fires, with the death toll ris­ing from rag­ing blazes in Cal­i­for­nia.

And the bill in­cludes $16 bil­lion to bail out the Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram, which is the govern­ment’s trou­bled back­stop pro­gram to pro­vide re­lief for those who can­not get reg­u­lar flood in­sur­ance be­cause they live in too risky ar­eas.

Some of the 69 Repub­li­cans who op­posed the bill sin­gled out the bailout as their rea­son for op­pos­ing the pack­age. They said the bailout forces re­spon­si­ble tax­pay­ers to cover the costs of those who in­sist on liv­ing in risky ar­eas.

Other Repub­li­cans ob­jected be­cause the money is tacked onto the deficit, forc­ing the costs onto fu­ture Amer­i­cans, rather than paid for through spend­ing cuts or tax in­creases now.

The bill in­cludes $18.7 bil­lion to re­plen­ish the main dis­as­ter re­lief ac­counts that keep Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency of­fi­cials in the field. The bill still needs Sen­ate ap­proval. Con­gres­sional lead­ers and the White House said it’s not bill they’ll be ask­ing tax­pay­ers to pay for the dis­as­ters.

“There will be oth­ers,” promised House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rod­ney Frel­inghuy­sen, New Jer­sey Re­pub­li­can.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“I ask ev­ery Amer­i­can that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico,” said Mayor Car­men Yulin Cruz in a state­ment she sent.

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