IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump's posturing on disaster relief goes off the rails

The debate over a disaster-relief bill would be less exasperating if Trump weren't operating from his own alternate reality.
Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan
U.S. President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico,...

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote today on the latest disaster-relief package, intended to help Americans affected by several different crises. Donald Trump has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he considers the funding a priority, but he's nevertheless lobbying against the House bill.

President Trump called for Republicans to reject a $17 billion disaster relief bill providing millions in funding to areas ravaged by natural disaster in the last few years.Late Thursday evening, the president tweeted his opposition to the bill, calling it the "BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Supplemental Bill" and urging House Republicans to vote against it. Hours later, around 11 p.m., he added that his party "must stick together."

The sticking point hasn't changed: Democrats insist on a disaster-relief bill that includes additional aid for Puerto Rico, while the White House insists that Puerto Rico doesn't need any more assistance.

To that end, the president has gone out of his way in recent days to push claims that have already been discredited. Consider, for example, Trump's tirade during an unrelated White House event yesterday:

"You know, it's interesting -- Puerto Rico -- just so you understand, we gave Puerto Rico $91 billion for the hurricane. That's the largest amount of money ever given to any state -- talking about states and Puerto Rico; a little different -- $91 billion. Texas got $30 [billion]. Florida got $12 [billion]. Puerto Rico got $91 billion. So I think the people of Puerto Rico should really like President Trump."Now, that money was given by Congress, but they got $91 billion. Now, you remember how big the hurricane was in Texas? The largest water dump in the history of our country, they say. Three times -- it went in, went out, went in. Texas got $30 billion. Florida got, actually, anywhere between $9- and $12 [billion]. Puerto Rico got $91 billion."And now the Democrats are trying to hold up the money -- from Georgia, from South Carolina, from Alabama, to Florida. They're trying to hold it up. They're hurting Florida. They're holding -- I mean, what they're doing to North Carolina, to Louisiana. They're trying to hold relief aid. Because Puerto Rico, which got $91 billion, have to love their President -- they want to get Puerto Rico more money, so they're willing to sacrifice Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and other states. The Democrats are doing that. They are very divisive people."

For the record, in this little harangue, the president claimed six times that Puerto Rico received $91 billion in post-storm relief. That's plainly false -- just as it was false when the Republican started peddling the claim two months ago.

Adding insult to injury is Trump's claim that Democrats are "very divisive people," because they insist on providing disaster relief to all affected Americans, instead of excluding the Americans the White House prefers to cut off.

Indeed, the not-so-subtle message the president touted yesterday was that Americans in the continental United States actually deserve emergency aid, while those other Americans don't. To disagree, the Republican argued, is to be "divisive."

Perhaps this should be added to the list of words Trump uses despite not knowing what they mean.

As for what'll happen next, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the process. Some GOP senators have taken some modest steps toward reaching some kind of compromise, but the White House, loyal to Trump's mistaken vision, remains adamant. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted yesterday, "Everyone has to keep working around that $91 billion lie, because Trump won't let go of it."

This is, in other words, the latest in a series of incidents in which a meaningful policy debate is nearly impossible, largely because the American president is operating from his own alternate reality.

Update: The House bill passed easily, with 34 Republicans joining with the Democratic majority.