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2020 Democrats reject GOP call to back Iowa disaster aid

Senate Democrats opposed bid by Chuck Grassley amid dispute about Puerto Rico

Sen. Charles E. Grassley pushed colleagues who are running for president to support disaster aid for Iowa. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Charles E. Grassley pushed colleagues who are running for president to support disaster aid for Iowa. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic senators running for president in 2020 lined up on Monday to block a GOP disaster aid package that would support the key caucus state of Iowa.

The votes against a move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to limit debate on a $13.45 billion Republican plan came as part of a broader dispute between President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers over assistance for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Democratic White House hopefuls Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts voted no.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California was not present on Monday. She is scheduled to hold campaign events in Carson City, Nev., on Tuesday.

The overall vote was 44 to 49. The motion would have needed 60 votes to shut off the debate.

Senate Republicans had sought to win support of the Democrats running for president in 2020, citing the addition of disaster relief to help flood-ravaged Midwestern states including Iowa — the home of the first caucuses of the presidential contest.

“At a time when some families in Iowa have everything that they own underwater, and the people of Puerto Rico are facing a funding cliff, now is not the time to play politics with a disaster relief bill,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said Monday afternoon.

“To my colleagues across the aisle who have been spending a lot of time in Iowa lately as presidential candidates,” the Iowa Republican continued. “If you vote against moving forward with the Shelby amendment, how are you going to look Iowans in the eye and justify a vote against moving this disaster relief bill ahead?”

The vote itself occurred on a McConnell motion to limit debate on an amendment from Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, which fell short of reaching the 60 votes needed to get past a filibuster threat.

Democrats argued that the Republican package would not provide sufficient support for Puerto Rico, chastising Trump for his opposition to increased support for aid to the U.S. commonwealth backed by the Democrat-led House.

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, had sought to offer an amendment combining the Midwest disaster aid with a bigger package for Puerto Rico, but the GOP objected to that.

After the Democrats led opposition to the GOP proposal, Senate Republicans voted to block limiting debate on the underlying House-passed bill.

Following the failed votes, the Senate was moving on to other business, leaving the question of when the extra disaster aid would be coming to Iowa or Puerto Rico, if at all.

“They say Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned, President Trump tweets while Puerto Rico suffers,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the Senate floor.

In a Sunday night opinion piece for the New York Daily News, the Democrat from New York expanded on his complaints about the Trump administration’s handling of assistance to Puerto Rico.

“Rather than keeping a promise to provide necessary aid to help Puerto Rico recover from these devastating hurricanes, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans continue to find ways to slow down and limit critical federal dollars from reaching our fellow American citizens still recovering from these disasters,” Schumer wrote.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.