President Donald Trump expects the damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana will require additional funding from Congress — and says he wants lawmakers to send him an aid bill “quickly.”
Trump echoed Vice President Mike Pence by saying he believes FEMA and other federal entities involved in immediate response efforts have ample funding. During an earlier television interview, Pence left the door open to needing extra funds — but Trump went much further.
He told reporters during a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart that he is awaiting the “real number.” But that figure will only hit his desk after the storm passes and flood waters receded, allowing a full damage assessment and requests for federal help to be submitted.
Even so, Trump at several points predicted any aid bill would swiftly move through Congress.
“I think that you’re going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president,” Trump said.
The president said he has been in touch with the governors of Texas and Louisiana, and expects funding requests on his desk “fairly soon.”
“We think that Congress will feel very much the way I feel,” he said, adding a bipartisan measure to help residents in the two states “would be very nice.”
Passing an aid package with Republican and Democratic votes would be one way to avoid conservative GOP members erecting roadblocks by demanding some or all of the monies be offset by spending cuts.
Striking an optimistic tone, the president said he is confident Texas “will be up and running very, very quickly.” He added he already has “spoken to Congress” about an aid package.
“You will have what you want very, very quickly,” he said.
Any Harvey aid package would add yet another major item to a fall congressional agenda that already includes a debt ceiling hike, passing a spending bill to avert a government shutdown, a possible re-vote in the Senate on a health overhaul bill, a slew of stalled nominations, and the start of a GOP push to craft a tax overhaul bill.
“Republicans must be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday. “With the National Flood Insurance Program expiring at the end of September, House Republicans must also move swiftly to ensure that affordable flood insurance continues to be available to communities across our country.”
If the White House determines it will need more funding, Trump would send over any request just as he is openly feuding with key members of his own party — including Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But the president downplayed the notion that an aid package might be complicated by those other issues, or that it would be part of the coming government shutdown debate.
In his view, a possible aid package would “have nothing to do” with any other item on the agenda, nor his recent war of words with Republicans.
And when asked several times about an autumn shutdown, Trump declined to walk back a threat he made last Tuesday night during a raucous campaign rally in Phoenix. There, Trump said he would be willing to veto a coming year-end spending measure if it lacked funds for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
“I hope that’s not necessary,” he said of a shutdown. “If it’s necessary, then we will see.”
And on the wall, the president who ran as a tough-on-immigration candidate again vowed to build the border barrier. He also again doubled down on his pledge that Mexico will foot the bill — eventually.
He wants Congress to handle the funding up front, but on Monday said “one way or the other, Mexico will pay for the wall.” He has said that could come via reimbursement payments or other — so far unspecified — ways.
As usual, the president had more critical words about America’s southern neighbor. He said Mexico has been “difficult” to deal with thus far on renegotiating NAFTA, adding he understands because, to him, the trade pact is tilted in its favor.
Trump press conferences typically feature at least one rather surreal moment. Monday was no exception to that rule.
Asked about his pardon of former Maricopa County, Az., Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday night, in large part, because he thought television ratings already would be high as Hurricane Harvey continued hammering the Texas coastline.
Trump’s implication was that he wanted to drop the Arpaio news at a moment he was confident it would get wide coverage and a large audience. That’s likely because Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt after defying a judge’s order to stop his harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants and individuals he suspected of being so.
Trump contended on Monday that the former sheriff had been treated unfairly by officials there, who opted to “go get him” just before the 2016 election. What’s more, Trump lauded Arpaio’s military and law enforcement experience, saying he helped protect the “homeland” for decades.
Notably, however, the president never defended Arpaio’s actions.
-Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.