President Donald Trump reacts after he was introduced during the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

In interview, Trump blames ‘terrible’ Democrats for blocking Hurricane Michael relief 

President Donald Trump said in an interview Wednesday that Democrats were actively trying to “hold up” legislation to provide relief to Georgia farmers and other victims of Hurricane Michael six months after the storm slammed into the Southeast. 

And the president expressed confidence that he and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a loyal Trump ally also up for a second term in 2020, would carry Georgia next year despite the GOP’s struggles in Atlanta’s suburbs. 

“I think it’s in play only for us in the upcoming election, to be honest with you,” Trump said of Georgia, which he won by 5 percentage points in 2016. 

“I know David Perdue is going to be running and I’m running, and we’re going to do very well,” he said during the interview with Channel 2 Action News. “We have the best economy in the history of our country, so we should do well. And Georgia is doing really great.”

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The president’s remarks, which came while he was in Atlanta to speak at an opioid abuse summit, underscored how the debate over Hurricane Michael relief could stretch into the 2020 campaign. 

The Republican accused Democrats who “feel they’re not going to win the farmers anyway” of trying to score more money for Puerto Rico. 

“The Democrats don’t care about Georgia. They don’t care about Alabama,” he said. “They don’t care about numerous other states, South Carolina. They don’t care about numerous other states.”

Democrats have turned the blame on Trump, questioning why the White House is objecting to increased aid to Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory devastated by two hurricanes in 2017. Stacey Abrams, a potential presidential and Senate candidate, has criticized Perdue for siding with Trump’s “absurd vendetta.” 

“Pitting Americans in Georgia against Americans in Puerto Rico is fundamentally wrong and wholly unnecessary,” she said. “Georgia families and farmers deserve better leadership, and they deserve real relief now.” 

April 24, 2019 Atlanta - Air Force One approaches as people wait to see President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump addressed the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The passage of a roughly $14 billion package that Georgia lawmakers have proposed for victims of the October hurricane and other recent disasters has been sidelined by infighting in Washington, and Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders have lashed out at the stalemate. 

At the root of the dispute is a combination of deep mistrust and an increasingly bitter fight over funding for Puerto Rico that has blocked a bipartisan deal. The finger-pointing has escalated in the months since the storm hammered southwest Georgia, becoming the most powerful hurricane to hit the state since 1898

Caught in the middle of the fight are thousands of farmers who grew timber, pecans and other crops in southwest Georgia who suffered generational damage. Many warn they could be forced to sit out the growing season, sell off land or leave agriculture for good without help from Washington.

Gov. Brian Kemp has said the failure of Congress to provide relief to Georgia shows “we have reached a low point as a nation,” but he’s been careful to sidestep criticism of Trump. The governor said Wednesday that he privately pressed Trump again to push the measure. 

“It continues to be beyond me, when we have over a dozen states affected by this storm, we cannot get this done,” Kemp said. “Our folks in South Georgia feel like we’ve forgotten them. I can assure them we have not.” 

Other Republicans have been forceful in their criticism of the Trump administration. U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, who represents a stretch of South Georgia, said this month that his calls to White House staff have gone unheeded and “but for one tweet on April 1, it seems the president has moved on.”

In the interview, Trump expressed confidence that a compromise could be brokered.

“It’s a terrible thing that they’re doing,” he said of Democrats, “but we’re going to get it done, and a lot of that money goes to farmers, and that’s what we’re doing. David Perdue is working very hard and I’m working very hard, but they’re trying to hold us up.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.