WASHINGTON ― Lawmakers left town for a two-week recess without approving long-delayed relief to several states hit by devastating storms and flooding earlier this year.
Republicans and Democrats were unable to reach an agreement on a disaster aid bill because of a partisan standoff over how much financial assistance should go to Puerto Rico, which was slammed by two devastating back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Puerto Rico’s local lawmakers as “grossly incompetent,” insisting the U.S. territory had received far too much in aid in recent years.
“Their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess — nothing works,” Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Democrats ― including the governor of Puerto Rico ― dispute the notion that the territory’s leaders have misspent disaster relief funds. Last week, Democratic senators blocked a measure giving billions in disaster aid to several Midwestern states hit by flooding because it failed to include sufficient funds for Puerto Rico.
Over the weekend, Democratic leaders also rejected a Republican offer on disaster aid because it did not specifically provide additional aid to the island.
“I’m not going to pass a racist disaster aid bill,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters this week, criticizing Republicans for turning their backs on the island simply because of Trump.
A group of Republican senators met with Trump at the White House on Thursday ― before the Senate recessed ― to discuss a path forward on the issue, but came to no agreement.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), one of the lawmakers present at the meeting, said earlier that the negotiations were at a “standstill.” The Alabama Republican said it was “frustrating” and “mind-boggling” that Congress was leaving on recess without an agreement. Shelby added, however, that he agreed with the president on the level of funding Puerto Rico ought to receive.
“I believe if our caucuses would let us, we would have [a deal] by tonight,” Shelby said Wednesday, referring to Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
The House passed an initial disaster relief package in January, but it has lingered in the Senate ever since.
“It is an absolute travesty that this chamber is recessing without a compromise on much-needed funding for disaster relief,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday. “This is un-American. We should not be picking and choosing who gets disaster relief.”