President Trump traveled to the Florida Panhandle to fire up his staunch supporters with fiery rebukes of congressional Democrats, whom he accused of blocking additional disaster aid for the storm-hit region and wanting to give Puerto Rico “more and more” federal aid.
Holding up a paper chart which purportedly showed that the hurricane-battered island has received more federal assistance than states in the mainland, Mr. Trump told the boisterous crowd, “What the Democrats want to do, they want to give more and more.”
“They complain, they want more money,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Puerto Rico’s government, which he has constantly clashed with over federal assistance to the island in wake of a pair of devastating storms which struck the U.S. territory in 2017.
Mr. Trump told supporters that the island has received $91 billion from the U.S. government — a misleading claim he has made on numerous occasions. Although the figures are murky, Puerto Rico has not received $91 billion from Washington.
A Puerto Rican government official told CBS News last month the island has received $300 million in funding for “permanent work” on the island in the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma. The official added that several federal agencies, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have projected billions in relief work for Puerto Rico over the next several years, but that only a small percentage of the funds have been distributed.
The president also told his supporters he’s ready for a general election opponent. “I want to run so badly. I want this race to start immediately,” he said.
He mocked a few of his opponents from the stage, making fun of Pete Buttigieg’s name — pronouncing it “Boot-edge-edge” — and saying he’d like to see the South Bend mayor negotiate a trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He asked if former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke had “fallen like a rock?” And he called “sleepy” Joe Biden and “crazy” Bernie Sanders “some real beauties.”
Bringing up the tariffs he authorized to go into effect Friday, Mr. Trump said China “broke the deal” on trade. But he assured the crowd that his administration will ultimately broker a pact with Beijing.
“Don’t worry about it. It’ll work out. There’s no pressure,” he said of Thursday’s negotiating sessions with the Chinese vice premier.
Before the rally, the president visited storm-hit Tyndall Air Force Base, which is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Additional federal relief funds for the Panhandle and other disaster-hit communities across the country have stalled in Congress in recent months as lawmakers have failed to break a gridlock over additional hurricane recovery funds for Puerto Rico — which the White House strongly opposes.
In a statement, Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, criticized the president for “repeatedly and falsely” claiming that Democrats were blocking the disaster aid package. “The fact is that the President is holding disaster aid to all American communities hostage over his petty political grudge with the American citizens of Puerto Rico,” Leahy said.
The president’s visit to Florida also came as Democrats in Washington are warning of a “constitutional crisis.”
Earlier in the day, the president claimed executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller’s entire report and its underlying documents at the request of Attorney General William Barr. Echoing comments made by the Justice Department, the White House insisted that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, is “overstepping” his oversight authority.
Making good on his promise, Nadler and his Democratic-controlled committee voted to find Barr in contempt for not complying with the panel’s subpoenas for the Mueller report. The New York Democrat told reporters that the “stonewalling” by the Justice Department and White House had precipitated a “constitutional crisis.”
Arden Farhi contributed to this report.