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Trump signs long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster aid package

Trump signs $19.1B disaster bill into law

President Trump signed a long-delayed disaster aid bill into law on Thursday, authorizing billions of dollars of assistance to communities in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico recovering from devastating storms, floods and wildfires. 

By approving the $19.1-billion package, the president ended months of gridlock between his administration and congressional Democrats, who first introduced a version of the legislation in January. 

Versions of the legislation stalled in Congress for months, as Republican lawmakers were initially wary of supporting additional hurricane recovery funding for Puerto Rico, which Mr. Trump vehemently opposed until recently. Additionally, three lone Republican congressmen blocked the legislation from passing earlier this month while most lawmakers in the House were in their home districts.

The president, who has been criticized for his administration's handling of recovery efforts in the Caribbean U.S. territory after it was struck by two powerful hurricanes in 2017, has repeatedly clashed with the island's government, accusing them of corruption and mishandling federal funds. On Thursday, however, he struck a more conciliatory tone.

"Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!" the president tweeted Thursday while traveling on Air Force Once to Ireland from Normandy, France, where he participated in events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during World War II.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, said Mr. Trump's support for the aid package was "too little too late."

"Trump's ridiculous statement is equal to someone beating you to the point of death, being shamed into taking you to the hospital, and then saying you should 'love him,'" Cruz wrote on Twitter.

The disaster package — which passed in the House and Senate by overwhelming votes — delivers federal aid to farmers in southern states still struggling after Hurricane Michael's devastation, wildfire victims in California, low-income Puerto Ricans facing food assistance cuts and rural communities in Midwestern states like Iowa and Missouri recovering from floods. 

After months of back-and-forth and relentless finger-pointing, Democrats successfully included $300 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants for Puerto Rico, in addition to $600 million in funds for the nutritional program on the island, which was facing a funding "cliff."

Additionally, a senior Democratic aide told CBS News that lawmakers in the party secured language in the legislation to bar funding from being appropriated to other projects, a move aimed at preventing the administration from diverting funds to build the president's long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, denounced the president and his allies in Congress for "needlessly" stonewalling the aid package. 

"It was in response to the President's direction to not provide a dollar of additional aid to Puerto Rico that Republicans delayed the disaster relief for over four months," Leahy wrote in a statement on Thursday.  "Democrats have said from the beginning, the President cannot pick and choose which American citizens to help in the aftermath of a disaster."

Still, the Vermont Democrat expressed relief that disaster-hit communities would finally be receiving much-needed federal aid.

"I am glad to see the bipartisan, bicameral disaster supplemental finally be signed into law, and urge the Trump administration to be a constructive partner in helping disaster victims rather than allowing disaster assistance to languish in Washington," he said.