Congressional leaders are nearing a deal that would provide long-sought disaster aid to victims of hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires in the far West, floods in the Midwest and Puerto Rico, which continues to rebuild following Hurricane Maria’s devastation two years ago.
The question is whether President Donald Trump, who has been feuding for months with Puerto Rico’s leaders, will sign any package that includes reconstruction money for the U.S. territory.
Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that a deal is close. He said it will include money for the Puerto Rico beyond the $600 million in food assistance, which Trump had said would be the only money he would agree to for the island.
“They’ve basically given what we’ve asked for all along on Puerto Rico,” Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill. “They then added a border security package. It has a lot of good things, some bad things, and that’s the last thing that needs to be negotiated on.”
Details on a Senate deal remain murky and aides to the Senate Appropriations Committee leaders declined to elaborate on Schumer’s comments. But Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConell, R-Ky., sounded optimistic as well earlier this week.
“In recent days, important progress has been made to deliver on this overdue commitment,” McConnell said Tuesday. The package being negotiated “includes promising steps toward a bipartisan agreement to deliver critical resources to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border. The status quo is completely dysfunctional, so I’m glad that agreement seems to be converging on more resources.”
It’s unlikely any bipartisan deal would include funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico – a top priority for Trump – given Democrats’ fierce opposition to the project.
What’s less clear is whether a spat that erupted Wednesday between Trump and Democratic leaders would prevent a disaster aid deal. The president said he wouldn’t cooperate with congressional Democrats on shared priorities such as infrastructure and bringing down the cost of prescription drugs unless they abandoned investigations into his presidency.
The House passed a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill earlier this month. It included not only the food assistance money but several hundred million more to help rebuild basic infrastructure including the island’s crumbling electrical grid.
Senators have been negotiating privately for weeks to end the standoff, but the delays have come at a cost. Puerto Rico’s nutrition assistance program faced substantial cuts starting in March, and rebuilding efforts at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida – where Category 5 Hurricane Michael made landfall last year – ran out of money May 1.
The feud between Trump and Puerto Rican leaders has gotten personal.
Families hoping for assistance were probably not helped when Trump and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz traded insults last month over the pace of hurricane recovery. Trump called the mayor “crazed.” Cruz called the president “unhinged.”
Several senators, including Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama, have tried to convince Trump in recent weeks to approve an aid package.Trump continues to falsely claim Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in aid.
The amount allocated to Puerto Rico by Congress, however, is far less: $41 billion, according to FactCheck.org. Of that, $11.2 billion has been spent.