Disaster aid bill stalls amid Puerto Rico fight

The Senate rejected dueling disaster aid proposals on Monday amid a fight with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE over help for Puerto Rico. 

Senators voted 44-49 to end debate on a GOP proposal, falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the hurdle. 

That measure includes $13.45 billion in funding to help respond to a recent spate of hurricanes, storms and wildfires, but it ran into a roadblock over funding for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The GOP proposal, spearheaded by Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCongressional leaders to launch budget talks with White House Democrats agree to humanitarian aid for border as part of disaster package On The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight MORE (R-Ala.), includes $600 million for food stamp aid in Puerto Rico. 

But Democrats and top Puerto Rican officials have argued that isn't enough and warned they would block the Republican bill as currently drafted. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (D-N.Y.) summed up the Trump administration’s response to Puerto Rico as “cruel” and “nasty.”

“I want to implore my friends on the Republican side to remember that Puerto Rico is still recovering from hurricanes,” Schumer said.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló added in a statement that the Senate proposal “falls short of addressing the majority of our most pressing needs. While the $600 million it provides for Puerto Rico’s Nutritional Assistance Program is vital to the wellbeing of our citizens, it is imperative that our needs be addressed.”

Democrats warned that they would block the bill as currently written. Though Republicans control the Senate, they needed at least seven Democrats to vote for the GOP disaster aid proposal to get it over Monday's procedural hurdle.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible Graham, Leahy request briefing on decision to yank personnel from Iraq MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced an amendment to the GOP disaster bill to include a handful of additional provisions, including requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development to release block grant funding and money to help Puerto Rico repair damaged water systems.

A senior Senate Democratic aide told The Hill last week there were three options that would allow the disaster aid bill to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate: pass the House-passed emergency supplemental, amend the GOP proposal to include priorities from Democrats, or pass a shell bill to allow for the House and Senate to kick the issue to a conference committee.

But Republicans have warned that the House-passed disaster relief bill is a non-starter in the Senate and with the White House, with Trump criticizing the island territory’s handling of previous disaster aid money during a closed-door meeting with GOP senators last week. 
 
After Democrats blocked the GOP offer, Republicans blocked the House-passed disaster aid bill, which was serving as a shell for the Senate's debate.  
 
 
“The House bill has nothing for the Midwest flooding. So it’s a non-starter. For that reason and also because the White House has indicated the president would not support that legislation because of policy decisions made by House Democrats,” McConnell said.
 
McConnell voted against both the GOP disaster proposal and the underlying House bill, a procedural move that paves the way for him to bring back the legislation for a second vote. 
 
Trump also targeted Democrats over the bill, arguing that they should “stop fighting” the GOP proposal. 
 
“Democrats should stop fighting Sen. David Perdue’s disaster relief bill. They are blocking funding and relief for our great farmers and rural America!” he tweeted.
 
Republicans had hoped that voting against disaster aid would be politically damaging enough that enough Democrats would vote for the GOP proposal and kick the fight over Puerto Rico to a conference committee.
 
Several Democratic senators are running for president, and GOP senators warned that the disaster aid bill would benefit early voting states such as Iowa. 
 
“To my colleagues across the aisle who have been spending a lot of time in Iowa lately as presidential candidates, if you vote against moving forward ... how are you going to look Iowans in the eye and justify a vote against moving this relief bill ahead?” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador MORE (R-Iowa) asked. 
 
Updated at 7:13 p.m.