Senate Democrats voted Monday to reject a disaster aid bill over concerns that it fell far short of providing Puerto Rico with the support the territory desperately requires.
The substitute supplemental spending bill, which gives the island $600 million in food stamp funding, failed to pass the chamber by a vote of 44-49.
The Senate also held a procedural vote on the House version of the bill, passed earlier this year. Republicans opposed that legislation on the grounds that it does not include funding for flood recovery in the Midwest. The bill failed to reach the necessary threshold to proceed to a final vote and was defeated along party lines, 46-48.
The legislation’s shortfalls reflect President Donald Trump’s stance on the issue of relief funding to Puerto Rico, which was struck by back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in 2017. The storms wreaked havoc on the already struggling island, with Hurricane Maria alone killing thousands and causing approximately $91 billion in damage.
Despite this, Trump has said on numerous occasions that he opposes sending any additional funding to the island, which is still recovering from the storms’ devastation.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) accused Democrats not in support of the bill of playing politics. Noting that it also included disaster relief for several Midwest states facing flooding, he added, “To my colleagues across the aisle who have been spending a lot of time in Iowa lately as presidential candidates, if you vote against moving forward with the Shelby amendment, how are you going to look Iowans in the eye and justify a vote against moving this disaster relief bill ahead?”
Several Democrats who rejected the measure, however, said the decision was a moral one.
“We have a moral obligation to defeat this legislation and send a clear message to the President that we will not allow him to continue treating our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico as second-class citizens,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told ThinkProgress ahead of the vote. “When natural disasters strike, we must work to ensure all Americans, whether they live in New Jersey or Alabama or Puerto Rico or anywhere else, receive ‘A-Plus’ treatment from the federal government of the United States.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), vice chairman of the appropriations committee, expressed similar sentiments in a statement last week. “This Administration cannot simultaneously hold up recovery dollars for Puerto Rico, and then point to Puerto Rico’s failure to spend it as an excuse not to provide additional assistance,” he wrote. “We must pass a bill that addresses the needs of all communities impacted by disasters and we must do so now. The needs are pressing. The people are waiting.”
On Monday evening, Leahy asked the Senate to consider his previously proposed amendment to the bill, which would have provided an additional $431 million in additional Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds “to help Puerto Rico and other states cover the FEMA cost-share on relief projects” as well as $250 million “for state revolving funds that would help Puerto Rico and others rebuild damaged water systems and ensure they are resilient for future storms.” That amendment was rejected.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was more succinct in his criticism Monday. “The administration’s response to this catastrophe can be summed up in two words: cruel, nasty,” he said, speaking on the Senate floor.
The House first passed the spending legislation back in January, and after dragging its feet at Trump’s behest, the Senate introduced a substitute bill that would gut much of the support for Puerto Rico, such as funding to repair and reinforce the island’s water systems. The bill does include $600 million in funding for food stamps, but Puerto Rico is already severely underfunded when it comes to nutrition assistance compared to most states.
Trump claimed last week that Puerto Rico had received more than enough financial assistance in the wake of the hurricanes, suggesting the island had been granted $91 billion in aid. However, as The Washington Post noted, he seems to have confused that figure with the total cost of damages, not what Puerto Rico has actually received.
In an op-ed published Monday, Schumer also noted that the administration has refused to provide much of the funding Congress allocated to the island over a year ago, including $20 billion in long-term recovery and mitigation funds.
“It is shameful and unacceptable that the president is going to such great lengths to not help the people of Puerto Rico. Even more shameful is the president boasting that he has ‘taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever’ while he actively undermines Puerto Rico’s recovery,” Schumer wrote, citing Trump’s comments to reporters last Thursday.
Trump lashed out at Democrats on Twitter earlier Monday, insisting they would be hurting rural America by voting no on the spending bill, seemingly overlooking Puerto Rico entirely.
“Democrats should stop fighting Sen. David Perdue’s disaster relief bill. They are blocking funding and relief for our great farmers and rural America!” he wrote.
Democrats should stop fighting Sen. David Perdue’s disaster relief bill. They are blocking funding and relief for our great farmers and rural America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2019
According to new reporting from The Daily Beast, Trump has stonewalled congressional Democrats’ attempts to investigate his fumbling of the Puerto Rico disaster, which left nearly 3,000 people dead — a figure Trump has rejected.