Government

Presidential politics clouds disaster aid for Iowa

Pence and 2020 Democratic hopefuls trade blame

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaks March 30 during the Heartland Forum at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. (Justin Wan/Sioux City Journal
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaks March 30 during the Heartland Forum at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. (Justin Wan/Sioux City Journal
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DES MOINES — Visiting those affected by severe flooding in western Iowa, Vice President Mike Pence last week called out U.S. Senate Democrats — including a few by name — for their votes against a $13.45 billion disaster assistance package that includes aid for the Midwest.

Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, two of those senators who also are running for president, were in Iowa this week to line up support for their 2020 bids.

Senate Democrats say the proposed federal aid does not do enough to help Puerto Rico, which still faces struggles in the aftermath of a 2017 hurricane striking the U.S. territory. They contend the Trump administration has turned its back on the island and that the disaster aid package would pass if Trump relents and agrees to do more for Puerto Rico.

Seeking to turn the tables on Pence, Klobuchar and Booker accused him of politicizing the issue of disaster relief — often a bipartisan effort.

“Stop this crap and get the help to the people that need it in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri,” Klobuchar said.

She and Booker this week visited the Iowa Capitol — Booker on Wednesday and Klobuchar on Thursday — to speak to Democratic lawmakers and field questions from reporters.

Not quite a week earlier, Pence called out them and fellow Senate Democrat Elizabeth Warren for their vote against a disaster assistance package written by Senate Republicans.

“If you see Sen. Elizabeth Warren, if you see Sen. Amy Klobuchar, if you see Sen. Cory Booker and others come to Iowa asking for your vote, you ought to ask them why they voted against disaster assistance for Iowa,” Pence said while flanked by flooding victims and Iowa Republican leaders. “There will be plenty of time for politics when 2020 comes around. Right now, Iowa needs disaster assistance and it’s time for Congress to act.”

Booker and Klobuchar, both of whom also have visited flood-damaged areas in western Iowa, said Pence was the one who decided to turn the issue political.

“I think all of us should be sophisticated enough for people on both sides of the aisle that when someone comes to town and starts pointing fingers and throwing stones, it says more about them than it does about their earnest desire to really reach out and solve problems,” Booker said.

Klobuchar said she was surprised by Pence’s comments. She recalled talking to a woman who was in danger of losing her home even though it stood more than 2 miles from the Missouri River.

“I did not ask if she was a Republican or a Democrat,” Klobuchar said. “Because when it comes to infrastructure, I’ve always thought there is no red levee or a blue levee. There’s only levees. There’s no Republican levee or a Democratic levee.”

Klobuchar and Booker repeated their insistence that the federal disaster assistance package should include more support for Puerto Rico.

The proposed legislation includes $600 million for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program. Although its people are U.S. citizens, Puerto Rico does not have access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and operates its own food stamp program.

“Here we are a country that has afforded trillions of dollars of tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and then pleads poverty and says we don’t have enough money to take care of all those Americans who have dealt with natural disasters,” Booker said.

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Said Klobuchar, “The point is they’re trying to siphon off certain areas that need help, like in Puerto Rico, instead of just doing it altogether. And they’re playing politics with it. And I think that is the worst thing to do.”

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