Donald Trump told a meeting of Republican lawmakers that hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico had received too much rebuilding money compared with mainland states like Florida and Texas, hardening his opposition to further disaster aid for the US island territory.
Trump’s ardent opposition to additional Puerto Rico funding sets up a showdown with House Democrats, who insist that a $13bn to $14bn disaster aid package that’s a top priority for southern Republicans won’t advance without further aid for the island.
Trump told Republicans at a closed-door luncheon on Tuesday that aid for Puerto Rico “is way out of proportion to what Texas and Florida and others have gotten”, the Florida senator Marco Rubio said after the meeting.
Trump does support $600m to deal with a food stamp shortfall in Puerto Rico that has already meant slashed benefits, Rubio said, but he opposes more generous terms for delivery of disaster aid dollars and funding to rebuild antiquated water systems and make them more resilient to future storms.
The debate over additional aid for Puerto Rico is part of a wider discussion about disaster relief for several states struck by natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires in recent years.
A disaster aid package cleared a procedural hurdle by a 90-10 vote and is expected to pass the Senate as early as late this week, which would set up talks with the Democratic-controlled House.
Lawmakers from southern states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, which were hit by hurricanes Michael and Florence last year, are especially keen to pass a disaster relief package soon.
The measure has wide support from both Democrats and Republicans and is ardently backed by Trump loyalists such as the Georgia senator David Perdue and the North Carolina senator Thom Tillis whose states were slammed by hurricanes last fall.
“Just at the time when harvesting was starting, Hurricane Michael hit and crops were completely destroyed across most of our state,” Perdue said.
Democratic lawmakers have said the House will insist on further aid for Puerto Rico for a larger disaster aid measure won’t clear Congress. “Nearly 3,000 American lives were lost in the historic storms that devastated Puerto Rico and destroyed its infrastructure, and the island is still struggling to recover,” the House appropriations committee chairwoman, Nita Lowey, said in a joint statement with Senator Patrick Leahy.