160 Republicans vote to block aid to Puerto Rico in wake of disasters


The House of Representatives voted on Friday to provide billions in aid to the U.S. territory following deadly earthquakes, despite Republican opposition.

The House of Representatives voted Friday to appropriate billions in emergency aid to Puerto Rico, 237 to 161. The vast majority of House Republicans voted against disaster relief for the American territory.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), provides more than $4 billion in emergency funding and billions more in tax incentives for Puerto Ricans.

Just 17 Republicans voted with all 220 Democrats present to pass the bill. Another 160 Republicans and one conservative-leaning independent voted no.

Puerto Rico, still rebuilding from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, was hit by a series of earthquakes in recent weeks. The quakes, including one with a 6.4 magnitude in early January, have caused homes and schools to collapse, destroyed roads, and knocked out power.

"More support is clearly needed," Lowey told her colleagues. "We must act now on our shared responsibility to assist people in need."

Republicans dismissed it as a "messaging bill." Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) complained in a video that the bill "basically wrote them a check [without] really checks and balances."

"We know there's been a great deal of fraud, and oddly enough they're already on track to receive $90 billion," he said.

In a floor speech, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) called the bill "premature" as it includes funds for "disasters that haven't happened yet."

The aid, like most House-passed legislation, faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. Donald Trump has already threatened to veto the "misguided" bill. His administration put out a statement his week warning, "Neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse."

After initially promising a "massive federal mobilization" following the Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017, Trump has spent the past two years attacking the territory.

Trump has repeatedly called Puerto Rico's elected government as "incompetent" and "corrupt," falsely accused the territory of scamming the federal government to reduce its debt with aid money, and attempted to withhold all federal Maria recovery money.

In December, Trump intervened in a spending deal to slash Medicaid funds to Puerto Rico, which his administration defended as "fiscally responsible."

The Republicans' refusal to help comes despite a 2016 party platform that pledged support for the U.S. territories and even called for Puerto Rico to become a "fully sovereign state."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.