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Conservative from Kentucky blocking disaster aid bill

WASHINGTON


A second conservative Republican on Tuesday blocked another attempt to pass a long-overdue $19 billion disaster aid bill, delaying again a top priority for some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said that if Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi thought the measure was so important, they should have kept the House in session in Washington late last week to slate an up-ordown roll call vote.

“If the speaker of this House thought that this was must-pass legislation, the speaker … should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for 10 days,” Massie said as he blocked the measure.

“You can’t have bills passed in Congress with nobody voting on them,” Massie said. “That is the definition of the swamp, and that’s what people resent about this place.”

Massie’s move earned swift rebukes from top Democrats. Sanford Bishop of Georgia said that his agricultural district was but one part of the country suffering from hurricane damage and that aid won’t arrive until well after the start of planting season. “Many will not be able to plant this year,” Bishop said. Hurricane Michael struck Georgia in the middle of last fall’s harvest season.

Another conservative, Texas freshman GOP Rep. Chip Roy, had blocked an earlier attempt Friday to pass the measure under fast-track rules, but Democrats tried again Tuesday. Bishop flew to Washington from Georgia to request the House pass the popular measure under fast-track procedures that permitted any individual lawmakers to block the bill.

Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Georgia, criticized his GOP colleagues for holding up the disaster bill, calling them “clowns” in a tweet.

Eventual passage of the bill, supported by Trump and top leaders in Congress, is a foregone conclusion. Trying again on Tuesday was a political freebie for Democrats, who went on the attack right after the vote.

“I cannot understand why any member would object to giving relief to so many millions of our citizens who have been badly damaged by natural disasters,” said No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Hoyer said the bill “will be passed overwhelmingly” when the House returns.

One concern of many House Republicans was a move by House Democrats last week to dump overboard Trump’s request for $4.5 billion to address the crisis of Central American refugees at the southern border.

Trump is a supporter of the measure, which swept through the Senate on Thursday in a rush to exit Washington for Memorial Day. Many Republicans, including southerners facing reelection, are frustrated that the bill has taken so long. After being denied his border money in a fight with House Democrats, Trump still embraced the bill, which directs much of its aid to political strongholds of his such as the Florida Panhandle and rural Georgia and North Carolina.

Passing legislation without any objection from anyone is often trickier to do in the House than the Senate, however.

“I just think a unanimous consent, voice vote, on the way out the door — there’s always, out of 535 (members of Congress), there’s always a few who think maybe that’s not appropriate,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., a conservative who presided over a momentslong pro forma session of the Senate on Tuesday.

Cramer, who moved over to the Senate this year after spending three terms in the House GOP majority, also pointed out that the final disaster bill “actually took out some of the things that the House conservatives wanted,” such as billions of dollars to care for the influx of migrants seeking asylum after crossing the southern border.

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