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By Lauren Egan
WASHINGTON — Speaking at a campaign rally in Panama City Beach Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced plans to deliver $448 million in new disaster relief funding to the Florida Panhandle and blamed Democrats for stalling relief efforts in the seven months since Hurricane Michael devastated the area.
“Tonight I am pleased to announce that my administration will be allocating $448 million in HUD disaster funds,” Trump said speaking to the crowd in an outdoor amphitheater in one of the hardest-hit areas by last October’s hurricane. “We’ve already given you billions of dollars, and there’s a lot more coming.”
Funding deals to address the damage caused by Hurricane Michael have stalled amid disagreement on whether to include a relief package for Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.
“So now we need Democrats in Congress to work with us to pass an acceptable bill,” Trump said. “You’re getting your money one way or another, and we’re not going to let anybody hold it up.”
“I am doing the most allowed by law to support the people of Florida,” he added. “The money is coming immediately. No games, no gimmicks. We’re just doing it.”
Although Republicans signaled this week that they are open to including Puerto Rico in a multibillion-dollar disaster aid package, Trump again reiterated his opposition to providing more support to the U.S. territory.
“That’s Puerto Rico, they don’t like me,” Trump said, holding up a piece of paper that appeared to depict a chart representing the amount of aid given to Puerto Rico compared to other areas affected by natural disasters, lamenting that too much had already been allocated to them. “They complained they want more money,” he added.
Before arriving at the amphitheater, Trump toured areas still recovering from the hurricane, including the Tyndall Air Force Base, which was severely damaged during the storm.
“We are actually going to have many more people working at Tyndall than you had before the hurricane,” Trump promised rally goers. “So be prepared.”
On a day when the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress and the president himself asserted executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report, Trump largely — though not entirely — steered clear of spotlighting the recent escalation in his legal faceoffs with Democratic lawmakers.
“And now the Democrats — we have a great attorney general — now the Democrats are saying ‘we want more,'” he said. “You know it was going to be like ‘We want the Mueller report.’ Now they say, “Mueller report? We want to start all over again.'”
Trump was in friendly territory Wednesday night in Bay County, which voted for him by over 70 percentage points in 2016, in a state he narrowly carried by just 1.2 percentage points, or roughly 113,000 votes.
Despite Trump’s promises Wednesday night to provide more disaster funding, he has recently taken heat from some Floridians for Washington’s slow response the storm as thousands of people are still displaced from their homes and business remain shuttered heading into the summer tourism boom.
The importance of Florida, which carries the third most electoral college votes behind California and Texas, was not lost on Trump Wednesday night, as he quickly pivoted to his potential 2020 opponents.
“You got some real beauties,” Trump said of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. “You’ve got a choice between Sleepy Joe and Crazy Bernie.”
Trump also made fun of Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., mocking his last name and laughing at the idea of him representing the country on the global stage. He joked he wanted “to be in that room” watching Buttigieg negotiate with leaders like President Xi Jinping of China.
And he dismissed former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who earlier this year hosted a counter rally to the president’s El Paso campaign visit. “Boy, is he falling like a rock. What the hell happened to Beto?” said Trump.
“Pick somebody, and let’s start this thing,” he added.