The Latest: House passes $36.5 billion disaster aid bill
WASHINGTON – The Latest on federal aid for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico:
The House has passed a $36.5 billion measure that would replenish government disaster aid funds and help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico keep functioning in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The bipartisan 353-69 vote sent the measure to the Senate, which plans to take up the bill next week.
The bill combines $18.7 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief with $16 billion to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance program pay an influx of Harvey-related claims. An additional $577 million would pay for western firefighting efforts.
Almost $5 billion of the funding could be used to help the government of Puerto Rico and its local jurisdictions stay functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria.
White House chief of staff John Kelly is defending President Donald Trump’s commitment to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
He says at a White House briefing the U.S. will stand with Puerto Rico “until the job is done.”
Kelly was asked about the president’s tweets Thursday morning that Puerto Rico shouldn’t expect federal aid to last “forever.”
Kelly says the military and other emergency responders are trying very hard to work themselves out a job. He says the U.S. will “stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”
Rick Perry has referred to Puerto Rico as a country at a congressional hearing, though he also repeatedly described it correctly as a U.S. territory.
When Rep. Kathy Castor asked the energy secretary about efforts to restore Puerto Rico’s storm-destroyed power grid, he said she’d described a major problem facing “the territory.”
Perry added, “That’s a country that already had its challenges before the storm.”
The Florida Democrat interrupted him, saying, “Well, it’s America, there are American citizens, it’s not a country.”
Perry apologized “for misstating here and saying ‘country.'”
The former Texas governor gained unwanted attention for the “oops” moment during his unsuccessful campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. During a debate, he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he wanted to abolish – ironically, the Energy Department.
House Speaker Paul Ryan says the government needs to ensure that – in his words – “Puerto Rico can begin to stand on its own two feet.”
The Wisconsin Republican says Washington also needs to help the U.S. territory rebuild its economy.
Ryan spoke hours after President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that the federal role in assisting the island would be limited. Ryan is set to visit Puerto Rico on Friday.
He says Puerto Rico already faced difficult fiscal and economic problems before being devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Ryan says “we’ve got to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy” but that the immediate humanitarian crisis must be addressed.
Ryan said he didn’t know about Trump’s tweets.
The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, says President Donald Trump’s criticism of her hurricane-ravaged country is “unbecoming” of a commander in chief.
Carmen Yulin Cruz says on Twitter that Trump’s words “seem more to come from a ‘Hater in Chief.”
Trump said earlier Thursday on Twitter that Puerto Rico has a “total lack of accountability” and “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” He says Puerto Rico shouldn’t expect federal help “forever.”
Puerto Rico has been reeling since Hurricane Maria struck three weeks ago. More than 45 deaths have been attributed to the storm, and 90 percent of the island is without electricity.
The mayor tweeted that Trump is “incapable of fulfilling the moral imperative to help the people of PR. Shame on you!”
President Donald Trump is criticizing hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and says the government can’t keep federal aid there “forever.”
Trump criticized the U.S. territory in a series of tweets Thursday. He says
The president adds: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
The House is on track to back Trump’s request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.
Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 20. It has killed at least 45 people, and about 85 percent of Puerto Rico residents still lack electricity.
The House is on track to deliver a sweeping bipartisan vote for President Donald Trump’s request for additional disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims, and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.
Thursday’s hurricane aid package totals $36.5 billion and follows a $15.3 billion measure that passed last month. The measure sticks close to the White House request, ignoring – for now – huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, who together pressed for some $40 billion more.
Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit states said a third interim aid request is anticipated shortly – with a final, huge hurricane recovering and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.