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Disaster aid stalls again in House after second Republican objects

Days after Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) blocked passage of a disaster aid package, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) blocked a second effort to pass the bill on May 28. (Video: C-SPAN)

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) objected to a $19.1 billion disaster aid package on Tuesday, again derailing House leaders’ bid to pass legislation that would send federal support to victims of natural disasters.

Massie followed Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who was the lone representative to object Friday when House leaders made their first attempt at passing the measure. Massie and Roy have said they objected because of the effect of the aid on the national debt and because lawmakers left out the funding that President Trump had requested for operations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Despite the lack of border funding, Trump said the Senate had his support when it overwhelmingly voted to advance the measure Thursday. The Senate vote came after months of gridlock, in which lawmakers and Trump fought over funding for Puerto Rico and other issues.

The objections to the disaster aid bill further delays legislation that would send assistance to victims of Western wildfires, Midwestern flooding and hurricanes that hit the Southeast and Puerto Rico, as well as to other disaster-affected areas of the country.

Some congressional Republicans in states in line for federal support have publicly criticized Massie and Roy, and Democratic leaders condemned these lawmakers’ efforts as political grandstanding that delays badly needed aid.

House lawmakers began leaving town last week before the Senate announced a bipartisan deal to move the measure. Leaders have since tried to pass the bill by “unanimous consent,” a maneuver that allows for quick passage of legislation with only a few members present. A single objection is enough to block a bill from passing by unanimous consent.

The full House is not scheduled to return to Washington until June 3. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said leaders plan to bring up the disaster bill for a third time — on Thursday. Massie said he was not sure yet whether he or another member would show up then to defeat the legislation.

The politics of disaster aid, explained

Massie called it “legislative malpractice” to pass the measure without a full vote of the House, and he faulted Democrats for having sent members home for the Memorial Day break. Both the House and the Senate routinely approve legislation through voice vote, but Massie argued that the disaster aid bill was a more significant measure than is typically approved through this procedure.

Massie also objected Tuesday to the extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set to expire at the end of the month. The Senate has voted to extend the program, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has said the program should be extended.

If Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “considered this must-pass legislation, why did she send everyone on recess?” Massie said Tuesday of the disaster bill.

Massie said he had not been in contact with either the White House or Republican leadership about his opposition to the legislation. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), another House conservative, was also in the chamber on Tuesday. Massie said Mooney would have blocked the legislation had Massie not done so.

“If there’s an organized effort here, I’m not aware of it,” Massie said. “I’m acting on my own.”

Democratic lawmakers slammed the conservative House members for delaying passage of the aid.

“The heartlessness of House Republicans knows no bounds,” Pelosi said in a statement. “House Republicans need to immediately end this shameful sabotage, and allow the House to pass the bill that the bipartisan Senate has finally agreed to.”

Massie also faced criticism from some members of his own party, with Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) saying Tuesday on Twitter that “more clowns showed up today” to delay disaster aid that Trump and the House will pass anyway next week. Last week, Scott said in an interview that he and other members had privately expressed frustration with Roy for blocking disaster aid.

The disaster aid bill has been pending since last year, and the slow pace of talks has frustrated lawmakers of both parties, especially as past disaster bills have often been bipartisan and rarely featured the delays or rancor that have accompanied this one.

For much of that time, the main sticking point has been a struggle over Puerto Rico between Democrats — who pushed for more aid to the island — and Trump, who has spent months complaining about fiscal mismanagement by the territory’s government and has drastically overstated the sums sent to the island after it was struck by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the 2017 hurricane, would receive more than $1 billion under the package, according to a House Democratic aide. That includes $600 million in emergency funding for the food stamp program in the U.S. territory, as well as more than $300 million to help the island cover infrastructure repair costs.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date the House is expected to return.