Mar 26, 2019

Federal watchdog probes potential White House "interference" in Puerto Rico aid

A resident stands on her property after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

An attorney at the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General said on Tuesday that the watchdog will open a probe to determine whether the White House interfered with the distribution of millions of dollars in disaster aid for Puerto Rico following 2017's Hurricane Maria, reports the Washington Post.

The backdrop: Trump's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria triggered concern among Democrats after he refused to allocate additional funds to the U.S. territory and chose not to visit the island ravaged by the hurricane as quickly as he had when natural disasters struck Florida and Texas. As the Post notes, "Congress has appropriated nearly $20 billion in HUD disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, only $1.5 billion of which has been approved for spending."

Details: Kirkland said the probe comes at the request of congressional lawmakers as part of a broader look at HUD's management of disaster grants.

  • The Post reported that a "bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking into broader delays in the spending of federal aid for a number of regions struck by natural disasters, including Texas and Florida."
  • The Post also reported that HUD Secretary Ben Carson blamed Puerto Rick's “history of fiscal malfeasance," for the "additional financial controls ... to ensure this disaster recovery money is spent properly.”
  • "On Monday, the Government Accountability Office published a report finding that the federal government has been “slow” to get block grants to areas struck by disasters."

Yes, but: Kirkland told lawmakers that his office may encounter jurisdictional limitations "to look into the totality" of the administration's response. "But where we can, we have asked those questions that Congress asked us to get to the bottom of," the Post cited him saying.

Go deeper: Trump’s "A Plus treatment" highlights political approach to disaster relief

Go deeper

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Protesters on Tuesday evening by the metal fence recently erected outside the White House. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday night across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Protesters were still out en masse for mostly after curfews were in force in cities including Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and Portland — where police used pepper spray and flash bangs on a group throwing projectiles at them during an "unlawful assembly," per KATU. Portland police said this group was separate to the thousands of demonstrators who protested peacefully elsewhere in the city.

Primary elections test impact of protests, coronavirus on voting

Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the midst of a global pandemic and national protests over the death of George Floyd, eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, needs to win 425 of the 479 delegates up for grabs in order to officially clinch the nomination. There are a number of key down-ballot races throughout the country as well, including a primary in Iowa that could determine the fate of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Rep. Steve King defeated in GOP primary

Rep. Steve King. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

State Sen. Randy Feenstra defeated incumbent Rep. Steve King in Tuesday's Republican primary for Iowa's 4th congressional district, according to the Cook Political Report.

Why it matters: King's history of racist remarks has made him one of the most controversial politicians in the country and a pariah within the Republican Party.