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Politics

Disaster aid bill again blocked in House by GOP conservative

US-WEATHER-HURRICANE-NOAA
A house is surrounded by debris from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., on May 23.
(Leila Macor / AFP/Getty Images)

A second conservative Republican in as many House sessions stepped in on Tuesday to block a long-overdue $19-billion disaster aid bill that’s a top priority for some of President Trump’s most loyal allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said that if Democratic leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco thought the measure was so important, they should have kept the House in session in Washington late last week to slate an up-or-down roll call vote.

Another conservative blocked an earlier attempt Friday to pass the measure under fast-track rules, but Democrats tried again Tuesday. Veteran Democrat Sanford Bishop flew to Washington from Georgia to request the House pass the popular measure under fast-track procedures that permitted any individual lawmakers to block the bill.

Eventual passage of the bill, supported by Trump and top leaders in Congress, is a forgone conclusion. Trying again on Tuesday was a political freebie for Democrats, who went on the attack right after the vote.

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One objection by Republicans was a move by House Democrats last week to dump overboard Trump’s request for $4.5 billion to address the crisis of Central American refugees at the southern border.

Trump is a supporter of the measure, which swept through the Senate on Thursday as lawmakers rushed to exit Washington for Memorial Day. Many Republicans, including Southerners facing reelection, are frustrated that the bill has taken so long. After being denied his border money in a fight with House Democrats such as Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Trump still embraced the bill, which directs much of its aid to political strongholds of his, such as the Florida Panhandle and rural Georgia and North Carolina.

Passing legislation without any objection from anyone is often trickier to do in the House than the Senate, however.

“I just think a unanimous consent, voice vote, on the way out the door — there’s always, out of 535 [members of Congress], there’s always a few who think maybe that’s not appropriate,” said Sen. Ken Cramer (R-N.D.), a conservative who presided over a moments-long pro forma session of the Senate on Tuesday.

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Cramer, who moved over to the Senate this year after spending three terms in the House GOP majority, also pointed out that the final disaster bill “actually took out some of the things that the House conservatives wanted,” such as billions of dollars to care for the influx of migrants seeking asylum after crossing the southern border.

There are also newer additions to the measure to help Midwestern areas suffering from springtime floods, along with large chunks of money to rebuild military bases such as Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida that were damaged by a string of disasters dating to last fall’s hurricane season. The measure ordinarily would have passed months ago, but Trump injected himself into the debate, demanding that funding sought by Puerto Rico’s elected officials, Republicans and Democrats both, be kept out.

Democrats held firm in demanding that Puerto Rico, a territory whose 3 million people are U.S. citizens, be helped by the measure. Their confidence was clear from the outset and GOP resolve on Puerto Rico, never particularly strong to begin with, steadily faded as the impasse dragged on. The bill now contains more money for Puerto Rico, about $1.4 billion, than Democrats originally asked for.


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