Another House Republican on Tuesday thwarted attempts to pass a bipartisan disaster aid package, further delaying $19 billion in emergency relief and frustrating lawmakers whose states were hit by devastating hurricanes, wildfires and flooding.
Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who objected to the bill’s passage during a voice vote, demanded that the vote be held after the House returns from recess next week — making it all but impossible that President Donald Trump can sign the package before early June.
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“If the speaker of this House felt that this was must-pass legislation, the speaker of this House should have called a vote on this legislation before sending its members on recess for 10 days,” Massie said on the floor, flanked by fellow conservative Rep. Alex Mooney of West Virginia, who also objected to the bill’s passage.
The objection by some House conservatives is now the sole hurdle to clearing the $19 billion package, which had been stalled for nearly six months until an eleventh-hour deal in the Senate last Thursday.
House Democrats — including Rep. Sanford Bishop, who flew from southwest Georgia to try to move the bill — skewered Republicans for halting the measure, which has the blessing of GOP leaders.
“Frankly, I cannot understand why any member would object to giving relief to so many millions of our citizens who have been badly damaged by natural disasters,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters after the bill was blocked.
Hoyer noted that both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise had agreed to Democrats’ maneuver, with a small band of conservatives acting alone to halt the process.
Multiple GOP lawmakers from storm-damaged states also lashed out in response to their colleagues’ attempts to hold up the bill.
“Unfortunately, more clowns showed up today to once again delay disaster relief for the states and farmers devastated by the storms of 2018,” Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) tweeted.
Another Georgia Republican, Sen. David Perdue, who faces a tough reelection in 2020, wrote on Twitter: “It’s pathetic that some members have chosen this moment to grandstand & get into the national headlines.”
the chamber returns for another pro forma session. Democrats will also once again try to pass an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set to expire Friday. But Republicans have made clear they will continue to throw up roadblocks.
Conservatives have objected to Democrats’ attempts to clear the funding bill during recess, with no chance for debate and no roll call vote to put members on the record. Republicans have also complained that the bill ignores the White House’s emergency funding request for the southern border — a demand that GOP leaders dropped in the final hours of talks last week.
Trump has already agreed to sign the emergency relief bill, which came together in stunning fashion just before the Senate left for a 10-day recess, with Republicans caving and agreeing to pass nearly the exact bill that House Democrats had passed weeks before.
By the time the Senate voted, the House had already departed for recess, with its members scattered across the country. House Democrats attempted to send it to Trump on Friday before Memorial Day during a pro forma session, but the plan was derailed by lone dissenter Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
Much of the $19 billion in recovery dollars is set to go to states hit by hurricanes Michael and Florence in 2018, mostly Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It also includes money for states ravaged by wildfires, such as California and Oregon.
The disaster aid package has been snared by setbacks since before the midterm elections, including Trump’s own determined efforts to block Puerto Rico from receiving more cash.
Republicans and Democrats agreed to deliver $600 million for Puerto Rico’s nutritional assistance program and $300 million for its community development programs.
Efforts to fund disaster relief were further complicated when the White House asked Congress for roughly $4.5 billion in emergency money for the southern border, where authorities and humanitarian efforts had been overwhelmed by a surge of arrivals from Central America.
Democrats had demanded stringent rules for any money going to the White House’s border operations — a hurdle that further delayed a deal. Republicans agreed to drop their border funding requests, punting that request until later this summer.
Congress last approved a giant disaster aid package in February 2018; that one focused on a trio of deadly hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Hoyer said Tuesday that Democratic leaders will not call members back into session this week to pass the bill, a move that he said would be impractical and costly. Instead, the House will vote either Monday or Tuesday next week.
“Very frankly, three or four days isn’t going to make a difference. What makes a difference is the inability to come to a rationale agreement, which we have done, and not have somebody object simply because they have the power to do so in this context,” Hoyer said.