- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2019

With Democrats issuing subpoenas and pushing contempt in Washington, President Trump flew to Florida on Wednesday to tour storm-ravaged regions and vow hundred of millions of dollars in additional aid.

He first toured Tyndall Air Force Base, which he said he’s saved from closure in the wake of Hurricane Michael, then rallied with supporters in Panama City Beach, where he asked Congress to finish up a disaster relief bill that’s been stalled for months.

Mr. Trump used a one-page bar chart to argue red states loyal to him have been shafted while Puerto Rico has enjoyed generous help after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island territory.

“We need Democrats in Congress to work with us,” Mr. Trump said at the rally. “It’s getting close.”

The president had his eye cast clearly on 2020, dissecting Democrats’ large field of candidates and pleading with them to settle on a nominee quickly.

“I want to run so badly I want this race to start immediately,” he said.

And he returned repeatedly to immigration, the issue he has signaled will be at the top of his re-election agenda, casting Democrats as a party of open borders.

“No one should run for office without an iron-clad pledge to protect and defend America’s borders,” he said.

Mr. Trump won Florida in 2016, though he’s working to solidify support in the state that’s built a reputation for razor-thin electoral margins.

Surrounded by the state’s GOP royalty, including two U.S. senators and a governor, Mr. Trump appealed for bipartisanship as an antidote to the bitter feelings in Washington.

Hours before he spoke, the House Judiciary Committee voted to initiate contempt of Congress proceedings against his attorney general over the special counsel’s report. And the House intelligence committee announced its own subpoena for the report.

“I think they’re making us look better, personally I really do,” Mr. Trump said. “They want to do investigations instead of investments.”

The president said his record is pristine, citing a hard line on Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, a robust jobs’ market and his push to rip up the “estate tax” and gut Obamacare’s individual mandate in the GOP tax overhaul.

He complained about Sen. John McCain’s vote against an Obamacare repeal bill — though not by name — and vowed to finish the job on health reform.

Democrats are planning to run on their defense of the health law next year, though right now they’re struggling with a thorny calculus — tout domestic priorities and attempt oversight of a White House that’s rebuffing them, or go bold and start impeachment hearings.

As they grapple with that question, a crowded 2020 primary field is campaigning to lead the charge against Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump said foreign leaders hope former Vice President Joseph R. Biden will win, because he’s “sleepy” and will go easy on them, and the president tried to pronounce Pete Buttigieg’s last name correctly — “BOOT-EDGE-EDGE” — before suggesting he couldn’t handle negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He also continued to mock Hillary Clinton for losing a winnable race against him in 2016, questioning her choice of campaign stops and wondering why she didn’t invest more time in the rust belt states that put him over the edge.

While he waits for a rival, he joked the other side is trying to sabotage him.

“That runway is like an ice skating rink and the first step was slippery,” he said, after taking the stage. “I think it was put in by the Democrats.”

The president also complained about Puerto Rico, saying its leaders have been unfair to him despite receiving “$91 billion” in aid.

It’s a number he cites as if that amount has gone to the island already, though fact-checkers say he appears to be adding estimates of future liabilities to the amount that’s made it to the island.

“It’s the most money we’ve given to anybody,” Mr. Trump said, before complaining about island leaders who’ve criticized him. “It hasn’t been fair how they’ve treated us.”

Moments after Mr. Trump finished his speech with a fireworks display — a new feature — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said if anyone is to blame for the holdup in disaster aid, it’s Mr. Trump’s Republican allies in the Senate.

She said the House recently advanced a $17.2 billion package that includes an additional $3 billion for flood-ravaged communities in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Southern states battered by tornadoes.

“Sadly, Senate Republicans have been more committed to hurting our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico than healing communities everywhere,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Meanwhile, the President has doubled down on Republicans’ callousness, deliberately delaying assistance payments to Puerto Rico and inflicting more needless suffering on the Americans who are still reeling from his administration’s disastrous response to the hurricanes. And so, hard-hit communities from the Florida Panhandle to the Midwest are stuck waiting for the GOP-controlled Senate to pass a bill to help them.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the president got it wrong.

He said Mr. Trump has requested billions of dollars for his border wall but “he has not requested a single cent” for states such as Florida that are begging for disaster relief.

“The fact is that the President is holding disaster aid to all American communities hostage over his petty political grudge with the American citizens of Puerto Rico,” Mr. Leahy said.

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