Congress

GOP Rep. causes $19.1 billion disaster aid bill to stall in House

The package had been passed in the Senate after border-related funding, sought by the White House, was removed

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., listen during the House Oversight and Reform Committee markup on April 2, 2019. He said Friday that he would block a unanimous consent request to block a $19.1 billion supplemental appropriations bill for victims of recent natural disasters. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House was unable to clear a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill Friday, after a freshman GOP lawmaker objected to a unanimous consent request.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, blocked the measure during the chamber's pro forma session, after telling reporters he had concerns about the process as well as the substance of the legislation.

"The people, particularly in Texas, but people generally, are tired of the swamp and this is a very swampy thing to do — have a vote on a Friday heading into Memorial Day weekend and after we recess, when we could have done our job yesterday when we had 435 members of Congress who should be here and should vote," Roy said.

[Senate passes long-stalled disaster aid bill with Trump support]

As a result, House lawmakers may need to cast recorded votes after the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Democrats will try to get it cleared sooner, however, through additional unanimous consent attempts. Rep. Donna E. Shalala, D-Fla., told reporters that Democrats plan to bring the disaster aid bill back up on Tuesday at 2 p.m. when the chamber meets for another pro forma session. 

"Hopefully, there won't be an objection at that time," she said. "We'll bring it up again and again until everybody gets back, but hopefully it'll get done next week."

Roy said he hasn't yet decided if he'll be back Tuesday to object to clearing the bill. "We'll see," he said. "I think the story would remain the same, I've got to do my job and get to the district. But we'll see."

[Republicans reviewing Democrats’ latest disaster aid offer]

The disaster aid package came together Thursday during a series of last-minute negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. The agreement was announced after the vast majority of House members left the Capitol to start the weeklong Memorial break, leaving Democratic leaders to decide whether to pass the legislation without a roll call vote, or wait until members return June 3.

Because the House was in a pro forma session, the only option for quick passage was to obtain the unanimous consent of all House members. That didn't happen.

The Senate was able to pass the bill by an 85-8 vote before its members left Thursday evening.

Trump tweeted his support for the package Thursday after the vote: "The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" 

Trump's backing wasn't enough to assuage Roy, a former top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. In addition to process concerns, Roy told reporters he was upset negotiators dropped billions of dollars to help the Department of Health and Human Services process a surge of migrants at the southern border. At the same time, Roy said he was opposed to providing $19 billion that wasn't offset.

“After President Trump and Senate Republicans delayed disaster relief for more than four months, it is deeply disappointing that House Republicans are now making disaster victims wait even longer to get the help they need," House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said in a statement after Roy's objection.

It's expected to be only a temporary delay, however.

Once signed, the disaster aid bill would provide billions of dollars to help Puerto Rico continue to recover from two deadly 2017 hurricanes as well as funding to help states and territories rebuild after a series of destructive storms and wildfires in 2018 and the first few months of 2019.

Congress will have to resolve the HHS funding issue quickly after lawmakers return, since the agency says it will have to start dipping into other program funds in order to fill an Office of Refugee Resettlement shortfall as early as June.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.