House to vote on disaster relief bill amid dispute over Puerto Rico

House Democrats are planning to bring to the floor a sweeping $17.2 billion legislative package that would provide money for rebuilding and recovery to Americans impacted by natural disasters. The legislation includes $600 million in nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico as well as $3 billion to address recent flooding in the Midwest and other disasters.

Taking up the legislation gives House Democrats a chance to keep a spotlight on the issue and argue that they’re taking action while Senate Republicans are not. But for now the vote is mostly a messaging push, since congressional negotiations have yet to reach a final deal that Democrats, Republicans and the President will all sign off on.

“This week our Democratic majority is advancing a robust, urgently needed relief bill for disaster-struck communities,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference on Thursday and argued that “the Republican Senate has done nothing.”

“While they delay and drag their feet, the devastating floods have wreaked havoc and historic damage in the Midwest,” Pelosi said.

The key divide between Democrats, Republicans and the White House continues to center on how much aid to allocate to Puerto Rico.
Congressional Democrats have argued that Republicans and Trump are trying to shortchange the US territory, while the President has accused Puerto Rico of financial mismanagement and has made false claims to argue that it has already received an ample amount of assistance.
Earlier in the week, key lawmakers expressed optimism that a deal might be reached soon after Senate Republicans made a new offer that included additional aid to Puerto Rico, but as of now the broader impasse over a package still has yet to be broken.

The President has blamed Democrats for the stalled effort.

“Now we need Democrats in Congress to work with us to pass an acceptable bill. We’re getting close; it’s pretty tough dealing with them,” the President said at a rally Wednesday night.
On Thursday night, he tweeted: “House Republicans should not vote for the BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Supplemental Bill which hurts our States, Farmers & Border Security. Up for vote tomorrow. We want to do much better than this. All sides keep working and send a good BILL for immediate signing!”

Beyond the dispute over Puerto Rico, there are other complicating factors as well.

Lawmakers, aware that Congress won’t be passing much major legislation this year, view the measure as a rare chance to include policy riders and get pet projects passed, which has complicated negotiations and slowed talks.

“In the end, it has to be something the President is going to sign, and I think what they are trying to do now is figure out how to thread the needle and get it across the finish line,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on Thursday.

CNN’s Ted Barrett and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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