Congress sends $19.1B disaster relief bill to Trump

Water+from+the+Mississippi+River+floods+Leonor+K.+Sullivan+Boulevard%2C+Saturday%2C+in+St.+Louis.+The+Mississippi+River+is+expected+to+rise+several+more+feet+by+midweek.

DAVID CARSON/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Water from the Mississippi River floods Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, Saturday, in St. Louis. The Mississippi River is expected to rise several more feet by midweek.

ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster aid bill sailed through the House on Monday and headed to President Donald Trump for his expected signature, overcoming months of infighting, misjudgment and a feud between Trump and congressional Democrats.

Lawmakers gave the measure final congressional approval by 354-58 in the House’s first significant action after returning from a 10-day recess. It was backed by all 222 voting Democrats and 132 Republicans, including the GOP’s top leaders and many of its legislators from areas hit by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Fifty-eight Republicans voted “no,” including many of the party’s most conservative members.

Trump hailed passage of the bill, tweeting, “Farmers, Puerto Rico and all will be very happy.” The president also suggested, incorrectly, that the bill would now see action in the Senate. That chamber had already passed the bill by a sweeping 85-8 vote on its way out of Washington May 23, a margin that reflected a consensus that the bill is long overdue.

But conservative Republicans in the House held up the bill last week, objecting on three occasions to efforts by Democratic leaders to pass the bill by a voice vote requiring unanimity. They said the legislation — which reflects an increasingly permissive attitude in Washington on spending to address disasters that sooner or later hit every region of the country — shouldn’t be rushed through without a recorded vote.

Along the way, House and Senate old-timers seemed to outmaneuver the White House, though Trump personally prevailed upon Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to drop a bid to free up billions of dollars for dredging and other harbor projects.

Tennessee Representative John Rose
SCOTT APPLEWHITE/Associated Press
Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn., a freshman from Cookeville, Tenn., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after he blocked a unanimous consent vote during a scheduled pro forma session of the House on a long-awaited $19 billion disaster aid bill in the chamber, Thursday. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and freshman Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, have both blocked passage of the measure in the past week.

The measure was initially held up over a fight between Trump and Democrats over aid to Puerto Rico that seems long settled.

“Some in our government refused to assist our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico who are still recovering from a 2017 hurricane. I’m pleased we’ve moved past that,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “Because when disaster strikes, we shouldn’t let a ZIP code dictate our response.”

The measure also faced delays amid failed talks on Trump’s $4 billion-plus request to care for thousands of mostly Central American migrants being held at the southern border. The sides narrowed their differences but couldn’t reach agreement in the rush to go on recess, but everyone agrees that another bill will be needed almost immediately to refill nearly empty agency accounts to care for migrants.

“We must work together quickly to pass a bill that addresses the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border and provides law enforcement agencies with the funding they need,” said top Appropriations Committee Republican Kay Granger of Texas. “The stakes are high. There are serious — life or death — repercussions if the Congress does not act.”

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