Senior lawmakers are calling on Congress to provide emergency disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey as images of flooded streets and homes highlighted the extent of the damage in Texas.
The death toll from the storm rose to eight, and federal, state and local officials said Houston and the surrounding community will likely need years to recover. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence says he hopes conservative majority on Supreme Court will restrict abortion access Federal judge to hear case of Proud Boy alleged Jan. 6 rioter seeking release from jail The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE said in an interview with local TV station KHOU that as many as half a million people in Texas will be eligible for disaster assistance.
President Trump is expected to visit the state on Tuesday.
GOP and Democratic aides said Monday that they have no specific plan yet for a disaster aid package since the storm is still ravaging Texas. But if Congress does appropriate funds for Harvey victims, an upcoming short-term spending bill next month to avoid a government shutdown is emerging as a possible vehicle.
Congress is expected to pass a short-term spending bill in September before current government funds run out at the end of the month.
Adding Hurricane Harvey relief could help ease passage of the government spending measure that is typically a difficult vote for many conservative lawmakers.
Congress coincidentally also faces a deadline at the end of the month to renew the National Flood Insurance Program, which could be tied into the same package as Harvey aid or addressed separately.
A spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE (R-Wis.) said the Trump administration would need to ask Congress for any extra disaster relief.
“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster. The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration,” said Ryan press secretary AshLee Strong.
Trump pledged swift government action in response to the storm.
“I think that you're going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president,” Trump said during a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Republicans to “be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending.”
“American families deserve to know that their government will be there for them when disaster strikes, without question and without hesitation,” she said in a statement.
Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee whose district includes storm-struck Houston, told Bloomberg TV: “We will need to put together an emergency supplemental appropriations bill.”
Culberson was the only Texas Republican to vote for a $50.5 billion measure providing disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. Nearly two dozen of his GOP colleagues from Texas voted with all but 49 House Republicans against the assistance.
Both of the senators from Texas, Republicans Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE and John CornynJohn CornynAbbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight MORE, also voted against the final version of the Hurricane Sandy relief measure.
Opponents have argued that they supported aid to victims of Sandy in New Jersey and New York, but that the legislation had been loaded up with other measures.
Asked by MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Monday to defend his vote, Cruz maintained that the 2013 measure was “filled with unrelated pork.”
“The accurate thing to say is that I and a number of others enthusiastically and emphatically supported hurricane relief,” Cruz said. “What I said then, and still believe now, is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wish list.”
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) was among the northeastern Republicans who were apoplectic when most of their GOP colleagues expressed reluctance to vote for Sandy aid. More than four years later, King singled out Cruz and other Texas Republicans for criticism.
“Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another,” King wrote on Twitter. “As lifelong NYer w/ NY values I will vote for emergency Harvey $ for Ted Cruz’s constituents. Above all, true Americans must stand together.”
Cruz dismissed King’s barbs during a CNBC interview on Monday.
“There will be plenty of time for politics. I’m not going to worry about political sniping,” Cruz said.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who also voted against the Sandy package four years ago, expressed confidence that any Harvey aid measure would secure support from conservative Republicans if it didn’t include extraneous spending.
“The package needs to represent the real need,” Sessions told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “If the package is in any way bloated, it will have problems. If it is tailored to fit the need that we can substantiate, my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus will be there.”