Senators say Congress is ready to support Hurricane Florence recovery efforts

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks to KATU from Capitol Hill on Sep. 12, 2018. (KATU)

Although Hurricane Florence has taken a turn away from the Washington, D.C. area, the storm remains a top concern on Capitol Hill.

As Florence churned toward the Carolinas Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., stressed that the storm is “extremely dangerous” and urged the public to follow the guidance of local officials if they are told to evacuate.

“The primary concern would first be with the coastal areas, with the storm surge,” Cardin said.

If the hurricane follows current projections, it may stall off the shores of North Carolina before moving inland through South Carolina. Communities along the coast are hunkering down with the expectation that it will make landfall Saturday.

“I just pray for the folks in the Carolinas and other areas that are going to be affected by this vicious, vicious storm,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Cardin’s constituents are not currently in the direct path of the storm, but he warned that may change at any moment.

“It could turn north,” he said. “We are concerned about Maryland.”

In particular, he noted a risk of flooding, recalling several other devastating floods in the state over the last two years.

“We know the ground’s already saturated. We know we have to be very mindful that this storm could cause additional problems for Marylanders,” he said.

Lawmakers are already looking ahead to a possible federal role in the cleanup and recovery effort.

“The federal government will be there to help as a partner,” Cardin said. “Congress will do everything we need to do to make sure we have the resources to help the affected areas.”

Ernst also signaled willingness to approve additional funds if a formal request is made.

“I would see no problem at all with that,” she said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., alleged Wednesday that the Trump administration transferred $10 million earlier this summer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to help pay for detention of undocumented immigrants.

“Right now, with the storm bearing down on us, we all understand we want FEMA to use every dollar it has effectively,” Merkley said. “If they need more, come to Congress. If they need more flexibility, come to Congress. We are ready to stand with you, but don’t send your assets, your resources off to build prison camps.”

President Trump and FEMA officials have insisted they are prepared for the storm and relief agencies have the funding they currently need.

“Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “It will be arriving soon. FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready. Be safe!”

Cardin disputed President Trump’s description of his administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, which officials now estimate left nearly 3,000 people died, as “incredibly successful.”

“It’s very unfortunate the way the president characterized that,” he said. “Three thousand dead, it was clear lessons needed to be learned from what happened in Puerto Rico. It was not handled the way it should have.”

Sen. Merkley was also troubled by the president’s perspective on Puerto Rico as the federal government prepares to face another test of its ability to manage the aftermath of a catastrophic storm.

“Unfortunately all we’re hearing is we did a perfect job last year and no improvements to be made,” he said.

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