Trump announces $448M in hurricane recovery funds at raucous Florida rally

President Trump announced Wednesday night his administration would allocate $448 million in federal aid to communities in Florida affected by last year’s Category 5 Hurricane Michael, all while blasting Democrats standing in the way of his policies, at a raucous “Make America Great Again” rally in Panama City Beach.

“In the wake of the terrible storm, this extraordinary community pulled together and showed the world your unbreakable spirit,” Trump told supporters. “Today, I’m doing the most allowed by law to support the people of Florida. Because of the severity of the storm — Category 5 — we will have the federal government pay for 90 percent of the cost in many circumstances.”

The White House has blamed “Democrat obstruction” for a stoppage in recovery work, with about 120 projects being deferred. The president’s opposition to more hurricane aid for Puerto Rico has sparked a standoff with congressional Democrats that has blocked some assistance to the island and elsewhere, including the Florida Panhandle.

“The money is coming immediately,” the president added. “No games, no gimmicks, no delays, we’re just doing it.”

The president repeated his claim that Puerto Rico had received $91 billion to help it recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which he called “the most money we’ve ever given to anybody. We’ve never given $91 billion to a state. We gave Puerto Rico $91 billion … and they don’t like me.”

Producing a bar graph printout from his suit coat pocket, Trump showed the amount of aid given to Puerto Rico compared to other disaster-hit states. “I didn’t want to spend on a big board because that costs the government too much money,” he joked before complaining that leaders on the island territory “want more money. They got $91 billion, the largest amount of money ever given for a hurricane to a state … and that’s the way it is.”

“I think that the people of Puerto Rico are very grateful to Donald Trump for what we’ve done for them,” the president said. “That was a bad storm.” The White House has said the $91 billion figure includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements that could span decades, along with $41 billion already approved. Actual aid to Puerto Rico has amounted to about $11 billion so far.

In response to the president’s remarks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement accusing Senate Republicans of being “more committed to hurting our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico than healing communities everywhere.

“Meanwhile, the President has doubled down on Republicans’ callousness, deliberately delaying assistance payments to Puerto Rico and inflicting more needless suffering on the Americans who are still reeling from his Administration’s disastrous response to the hurricanes,” Pelosi added. “And so, hard-hit communities from the Florida panhandle to the Midwest are stuck waiting for the GOP-controlled Senate to pass a bill to help them. We are now just weeks away from another hurricane season and Republicans continue to delay and play politics. When disaster strikes, all Americans deserve to know that their government is there for them.”

The rally, the fourth held by the Trump campaign this year, began hours after the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress.

That vote came after the president invoked executive privilege in order to prevent lawmakers from seeing the full unredacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian activities during the 2016 election.

Trump slammed Democrats in his speech for wasting time and resources on the Russia investigation, which he said led to nothing.

“Instead of wasting time, energy, taxpayer dollars on partisan stunts, hoaxes and witch hunts, Democrats should be focused on building up our country,” the president said. “No collusion, no obstruction, no anything … Two years on a witch hunt, almost $40 million, 20 Trump haters … after two years, nothing!”

Mueller’s report concluded that the two-year-long investigation into the Trump campaign found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s associates and the Russian government. The report did not, however, come to a conclusion on the separate question of whether Trump obstructed justice as president. House Democrats have subpoenaed the full unredacted report, as well as the underlying evidence Mueller used to come to his conclusions, but the Department of Justice has denied those requests.

“It is a disgrace. We have to focus on infrastructure, we have to focus on lowering medical prices and medicine, always focus on our military and our vets, which we’ve done,” the president said. “It’s time to stop this nonsense.”

Trump has said the Democrats’ attempts to see the full report were merely an effort to damage him politically ahead of next year’s election. The administration also has rejected efforts by Democrat-led House committees to investigate Trump’s business dealings or tax returns as well as the West Wing’s security clearance procedure.

The president took several shots at rival Democrats in the 2020 White House race Wednesday night, calling them “some real beauties” and mock-pleading: “Let’s just pick somebody, please, and let’s start this thing.” He joked that he would like to see South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg negotiating trade deals with China, saying, “That will be great.”

“We have a choice between Sleepy Joe [Biden] and Crazy Bernie [Sanders], and I’ll take any of them,” said Trump at another point in the rally, before adding: “Democrats are now the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, witch hunts and delusions. The Republican Party is the party for all Americans. We want to make America great again, that’s what we’re doing.”

Trump also highlighted the American economy, calling it “the envy of the world.”

“Our growth number came in for the first quarter, which is almost always the lowest quarter of the year historically, 3.2 percent, crushing expectations,” he said. 

The president added that since the election, his administration has created nearly 6 million new jobs, including 500,000 manufacturing jobs and nearly 700,000 construction jobs. Trump said had he promised those numbers during the 2016 campaign, the mainstream media would say he exaggerated them.

Trump also noted the unemployment rate has reached its lowest point in 49 years and told supporters not to worry about this week’s talks between U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators, including his threat to increase tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports at the end of the week. “They [China] broke the deal” in talks meant to de-escalate a year-long trade war, he said.

“We won’t back down until China stops,” Trump said. “The era of economic surrender is over.”

Prior to the rally at the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheater, Trump visited Tyndall Air Force Base, which took a serious hit from Hurricane Michael. The White House said almost all 700 structures on the base were damaged, roughly one-third were destroyed and 11,000 base personnel evacuated.

Almost every building appeared damaged in some way, including a collapsed hangar.

After touring the base, Trump promised officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, that it will be rebuilt “better than ever.”

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