Kentucky Republicans demand federal disaster aid after opposing it for other states

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Their state was one of several hit by deadly storms on Friday night.

Republicans in Kentucky's congressional delegation pressed President Joe Biden on Saturday for a disaster declaration after deadly storms devastated parts of the state. But the same lawmakers previously voted against emergency relief funds for victims of disasters in other states.

In a joint letter, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R), Rep. Andy Barr (R),  Rep. James Comer (R), Rep. Brett Guthrie (R), Rep. Thomas Massie (R), Rep. Hal Rogers (R), and Rep. John Yarmuth (D) wrote that while Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear had declared a state emergency on Saturday, "additional assistance is necessary at this time." They cited "significant destruction of property, dangerous road conditions, significant vegetative debris, power outages for thousands of Kentuckians, and severe impacts to transportation and infrastructure" from severe storms that began the night of Dec. 10.

The storms, which impacted Kentucky and neighboring states, included massive tornadoes that left dozens dead and destroyed about 75% of the town of Dawson Springs. Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett told CNN, "The devastation is quite frankly something that you would see in a war zone. This is an event where we had commercial and residence properties literally stripped clean from the earth."

The lawmakers backed Beshear's official request for a speedy federal disaster declaration. Biden approved the request on Sunday, making more federal emergency resources available to help the state.

But while these lawmakers were quick to request federal emergency help in this crisis, they have previously voted against funding similar relief for other states.

Newsweek noted Saturday that Paul had voted against relief funds after Superstorm Sandy caused major damage in New York and New Jersey in 2013, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, and after various other disasters strained relief agencies in 2019.

Spokesperson Kelsey Cooper on Sunday scolded Newsweek, "Kentuckians across the commonwealth are suffering and grieving today. This tragedy is uniting everyone around the common goal of helping and healing. Politicizing that suffering would be low for even the deepest partisan, yet here the corporate media is trying to do exactly that. Newsweek should be ashamed of themselves."

Cooper responded to the American Independent Foundation's request for comment with an almost identically worded statement.

Minority Leader McConnell voted against both a 2011 bill to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a 2013 Sandy relief package.

The GOP representatives in the delegation also have voted against relief funds for others in the past.

Barr, Comer, Guthrie, and Massie voted against a September bill to extend government funding and provide emergency assistance funds.

Last year, Barr, Comer, Guthrie, Massie, and Rogers voted no on a bill to fund disaster relief and emergency aid to Puerto Rico.

In 2019, Barr, Comer, and Massie voted against the supplemental funding bill to provide $17.2 billion for disaster relief nationally.

And in 2013, Barr and Massie were no votes on providing additional FEMA funding for Sandy relief.

Their offices did not immediately respond to inquiries for this story.

Yarmuth, the lone Democratic member of the Kentucky delegation, has consistently voted for relief funding.

All seven Republicans have also opposed legislation like Biden's Build Back Better agenda, which would invest billions in climate change infrastructure to help curb devastation from future extreme weather.

Updated to include response from Sen. Rand Paul's office.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.