Senate Democrats' decision on Monday to block a disaster aid bill was itself an avoidable legislative disaster, Republicans including President Trump charged, as the move threw long-sought additional relief for victims of hurricanes, floods and western wildfires into limbo.
Democrats said they rejected the bill because it didn't do enough to help hurricane-torn Puerto Rico. The vote escalated a fight between Democrats and Trump, who has opposed additional rebuilding aid for the U.S. island territory, which was slammed by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.
Trump tweeted Monday night: "The Democrats today killed a Bill that would have provided great relief to Farmers and yet more money to Puerto Rico despite the fact that Puerto Rico has already been scheduled to receive more hurricane relief funding than any 'place' in history." He added, "The people of Puerto Rico are GREAT, but the politicians are incompetent or corrupt. Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess - nothing works."
Trump also wrote that "politicians like the crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan have done such a poor job of bringing the Island back to health."
“Washington has reached a new low,” Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue said in a statement. “It’s been nearly six months since Hurricane Michael ravaged Georgia and other states across the country, and Congress has failed to help the very people it claims to represent. President Trump reached across the aisle, along with other Republicans, to compromise on disaster relief, but only one Democrat was willing to work with us."
Perdue continued: "Do not be fooled – Senate Democrats are using farmers in the Southeast and the people of Puerto Rico as pawns in their political game. It is hypocritical that Democrats say they want to help Puerto Rico recover, and yet they obstruct this disaster relief. [Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson] and I are not giving up. We will continue fighting until we get relief for the people of Georgia and other Americans across the country.”
Added Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley: "I’m disappointed in my colleagues who decry Washington political games while on the campaign trail in Iowa, but then return to the Capitol only to play political games themselves. The disaster aid appropriations bill I voted for in the Senate would not have left anyone in the lurch, from Iowa to Puerto Rico. But the Democrat poison pills will do exactly that. I hope my colleagues who voted against this much-needed relief will reconsider.”
The 44-49 vote fell short of a majority, much less than the 60-vote supermajority required to overcome a Democratic filibuster. It sent GOP leaders back to the drawing board but seemed unlikely to end disaster aid efforts outright, since there has been much political support to send aid to Southern farmers, wildfire-ravaged California towns and Midwestern flood victims.
Trump allies such as Perdue, R-Ga., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., have been among the strongest backers of the legislation, which already has faced significant delays.
"We will get this done eventually," Perdue said, promising relief to struggling farmers in his state. The path forward was not clear, but a leading option has been for the Senate to pass a much more narrowly drawn bill simply to get the issue into a House-Senate conference committee. House Democrats have insisted talks must produce a final measure with help for Puerto Rico.
Democrats said Trump has been slow to release already-appropriated funding for Puerto Rico and has exhibited little urgency in helping the island. Trump criticized the island's government at a meeting with Senate Republicans last week and suggested Puerto Rico has received too much disaster help compared with states such as Texas, using inflated numbers to make his case.
"Just as we leave no soldier behind on the battlefield, we help our fellow Americans when there's a disaster, wherever the disaster strikes. We do not abandon them. Period," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The $13.5 billion Senate measure mostly mirrors a $14.2 billion measure passed by the House in January, combining aid to Southern farmers, California communities devastated by last summer's wildfire and hurricane-hit states such as Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Hurricane-damaged military bases in Florida and North Carolina would receive rebuilding funds.
Democrats have aimed to add almost $700 million more to unlock further disaster aid for Puerto Rico and several states, including help to rebuild badly damaged water systems. Democrats also have tried forcing the administration to release billions of dollars in rebuilding funds that already have been approved.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the measure would be the fastest way to get aid to the hurricane-slammed South and the badly flooded Midwest, along with nutrition aid to Puerto Rico, where food stamp benefits already have been cut.
"It's our only sure path to making a law with anywhere near the urgency these Americans deserve. It is the only bill on the table with any provision for the Midwest flooding," McConnell said. "And, it's the only bill on the table that could earn a presidential signature in time to deliver urgent relief on the nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico."
Trump has yet to veto a spending bill despite some tough talk, and he has signed off on $600 million to ease the food stamp cuts in Puerto Rico.
"I have taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever. We have $91 billion going to Puerto Rico. We have $29 billion to Texas and $12 billion to Florida for the hurricane," Trump said last week. "They have to spend the money wisely. They don't know how to spend the money and they're not spending it wisely."
Trump's $91 billion estimate, said a White House spokesman, included about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements, along with $41 million that's already been approved. Actual aid to Puerto Rico has flowed slowly from federal coffers.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.