President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Aaron Bessant Amphitheater, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Panama City Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump promises more hurricane relief for Florida Panhandle

May 08, 2019 - 10:07 pm

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump promised a swift infusion of federal aid to the Florida Panhandle seven months after devastating Hurricane Michael as he rallied supporters Wednesday for his re-election.

Trump addressed a crowd of thousands at an outdoor amphitheater, looking to rally loyalists in the reliably Republican corner of the swing state as he kicks his 2020 efforts into high gear. Federal emergency funds to the area hit by the Category 5 hurricane and elsewhere have been caught up in a Washington standoff over Trump's opposition to more hurricane aid for Puerto Rico.

"You're getting your money one way or another," Trump promised supporters in Panama City Beach, holding up a chart showing federal emergency aid to Florida, Texas and the island territory, "And we're not going to let anybody hold it up."

Trump took a victory lap after last week's jobs report showing the nation's unemployment at a generational low, crediting his cuts to taxes and regulations.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who accompanied the president to Florida on Air Force One, said the 2020 election was a referendum on whether to allow Democrats to undo Trump policies like tax reform.

"This election is about reversing all of that," he said. "It's about going backward on all of that."

Trump also told his supporters not to worry about this week's talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators, including his threat to increase tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports at the end of the week. "They 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."

Trump earlier surveyed recovery efforts and lingering damage from last year's storm, and he announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be granting $448 million to the state for hurricane response.

"We've already given you billions and billions of dollars and there's a lot more coming," Trump said.

Trump was greeted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and local elected officials as he arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base, which was severely affected by the storm. Almost every building appeared damaged in some way, including a collapsed hangar.

The White House said almost all 700 structures on the base were damaged, roughly one-third were destroyed, and 11,000 base personnel were evacuated. The White House blamed "Democrat obstruction" for a stoppage in recovery work, with about 120 projects being deferred.

After touring the base, Trump took credit for rebuffing some who wanted to close the base as a result of the damage, promising officials it will be rebuilt "better than ever."

The area has received about $1.1 billion in federal disaster aid through mid-April, but disagreements in Washington have left many still struggling to recover from the storm.

Trump repeated his claim that $91 billion has been spent in Puerto Rico, and said falsely it was the largest-ever federal disaster program. According to the White House, Trump's $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 flowed more slowly from federal coffers — about $11 billion so far.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said House Democrats were once again taking up a $17.2 billion disaster relief package this week, with added money for Midwestern and Southern states hit by recent storms. But she said Senate Republicans have been more committed to "hurting our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico than healing communities everywhere."

"Meanwhile, the president has doubled down on Republicans' callousness" by delaying assistance payments to the island, she said.

The campaign rally comes as Trump and congressional Democrats are locked in a bitter fight over constitutional powers related to special counsel Robert Mueller's report and probes into the president's tax returns.

Trump called on Democrats to stop the investigations and work with his administration to boost infrastructure spending, predicting their efforts would boost his re-election chances.

"They want to do investigations instead of investments," said Trump. "I think it drives us right on to victory in 2020."

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