President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed Democrats for why he wasn’t able to herald millions of dollars in new disaster relief funding during his rally in the Florida Panhandle, as he returned to the region nearly seven months after he first toured the damage wrought by a Category 5 hurricane.
Those funds – sought by local residents and Florida elected officials for months – remain tied up in slow-moving negotiations over a broader multi-billion dollar disaster relief package amid a dispute over how much assistance should flow to Puerto Rico. Trump has continued to object to additional funding for Puerto Rico.
Trump’s comments came during 90-minute rally Wednesday night in which he laced into Democrats in Congress over their handling of the Mueller report and mocked 2020 Democratic hopefuls. The speech was also included several falsehoods and misleading claims, including about the amount of disaster relief funding the federal government has already delivered to the region.
Trump also made light of an incendiary comment shouted by a person in the crowd. As he was addressing the issue of illegal immigration, Trump noted that US officials can’t “use weapons” to stop migrants crossing illegally, but asked “how do you stop” them from crossing.
“Shoot them!” one person in the audience shouted.
“That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump said, smiling.
Disaster relief funding
Facing heat from Florida Republicans for the lack of supplemental disaster funding to the area, Trump kicked responsibility to Democrats
“Now, we need Democrats in Congress to work with us to pass an acceptable bill, we’re getting close,” Trump said at his campaign rally.
“We’re doing a lot of things, which includes additional Hurricane Michael relief funding immediately,” Trump said, getting back to hurricane relief. “No games, no gimmicks, no delays, we’re just doing it.”
He then knocked Democrats for being focused on the Mueller report, when they “should be focused on building up our country.”
“Did you see what just happened by the way?” he asked. “No collusion. No obstruction. No anything.”
“They should be focused on helping the people of the emerald coast of Florida,” Trump said.
Trump has repeatedly complained about the federal funding steered to help the US territory recover from the hurricane that devastated the island in 2017. He has also continued to object to additional funding for Puerto Rico.
Democrats, meanwhile, have insisted on a bolstered fundraising package for Puerto Rico as part of the supplemental relief package for Americans across the country impacted by hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Senate Democrats rebuffed the latest offer from Senate Republicans to increase aid funding for Puerto Rico, objecting to guard rail provisions attached to the funding. And it remains unclear whether Trump would support the increased funding, regardless.
Further complicating matters, the Trump administration is now pushing for supplemental border security funding to be added to the package.
Local officials seek answers
The lack of a deal did not dissuade Trump from making an appearance Wednesday in the area affected by Hurricane Michael, even as local elected officials – including the state’s Republican governor – have suggested Trump should only come to the area with a disaster relief funding deal in hand.
“Why would you want to come unless you are going to announce more good news?” Gov. Ron DeSantis – who met with Trump on Monday to discuss the relief funding – told local reporters last weekend.
Before rallying his supporters in Panama City Beach, Trump toured nearby Tyndall Air Force Base, which suffered extensive damage from the hurricane last fall, and other affected areas.
Trump has blamed the legislative roadblock on Democrats and their insistence on boosting funding for Puerto Rico, falsely claiming that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in relief funding – more than half of which is based on the White House’s estimates for costs FEMA could incur in years to come.
He repeated the false claim Wednesday evening, telling the crowd of supporters: “Puerto Rico got $91 billion. I understand they don’t like me. It’s the most money we’ve given to anybody.”
He also told the Florida crowd the federal government has already given their region “billions of dollars.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that the federal government has “obligated” $913 million in federal funds to help the state of Florida recover from Hurricane Michael. But that only means the government has pledged to award those funds – not that they’ve been disbursed.
Trump later said the federal government has committed “more than $10 billion to the state of Florida” for both hurricanes Michael and Irma.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.