Sen. Rand Paul's aid request for tornado damage faces backlash

The lawmaker has opposed federal disaster aid for other states.

December 13, 2021, 4:41 PM

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is facing criticism for requesting federal aid for his home state despite his long track record of opposing aid for other regions recovering from disasters.

Kentucky was one of several Midwestern states rocked by tornadoes over the weekend. The storms decimated large portions of towns, and as many as 70 people are believed to have been killed in Western Kentucky.

Paul, a Republican, shared a photo of a letter he sent to the Biden administration requesting "expeditious approval" of a request for federal aid made by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. Requests like these by senators in states affected by a natural disaster are quite common, but Paul is facing blowback because he has opposed federal disaster relief for several affected regions throughout his Senate career.

Paul is a deficit hawk, who has battled against hikes to the federal deficit to fund all sorts of legislation. His opposition to aid for states impacted by disaster has often been based in his belief that disaster expenses should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

In 2013, for example, Paul voted against aid for Northeast states hit by Hurricane Sandy.

"I would have given them ($)9 billion and I would've taken the ($)9 billion from somewhere else," Paul said in an interview with a local outlet at the time. "I would have taken it from foreign aid and said, 'you know what, we don't have money for Egypt or Pakistan this year because we have to help the Northeast.'"

He used similar logic to justify his "no" vote on disaster relief for Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey. And in 2017, he explained in an op-ed for The Hill that he would oppose aid for Puerto Rico and Texas after Hurricane Maria because the nation should "plan ahead" for necessary disaster relief.

PHOTO: Senator Rand Paul walks through the Senate Subway at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7, 2021.
Senator Rand Paul walks through the Senate Subway at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7, 2021.
Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP

"They say we are out of money to pay for hurricane relief. So instead of finding that money somewhere else in the budget, they simply want to raise the limit on our credit card," Paul wrote. "This has to stop. We spend too much. We owe too much. We cannot keep spending money we do not have."

But now that Kentucky finds itself in need of federal aid, Paul seems to be striking a different chord. He wrote in his letter to President Joe Biden that he "fully supports" the request made for aid and any subsequent ones made by the governor as damage to the state is assessed.

Critics say he's being hypocritical.

"We should do all we can to help our Kentucky neighbors. God be with them — they are hurting. But do not for one second forget that @RandPaul has voted against helping most Americans most times they're in need," California Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted on Saturday.

Progressive groups have joined in criticism.

Paul, in a statement to ABC News, refuted claims that he's been inconsistent.

"The truth is that I've consistently advocated for FEMA disaster money for Kentucky over my 11 years in office, dozens of times. When additional supplemental disaster funds above that budgeted each year have been sought, I have asked that the additional money come from cutting waste elsewhere in the budget," Paul said.

It's unclear if Paul will insist that aid for Kentucky and other midwestern states be offset by budget cuts.

The Biden administration is striking a different tone than that of former President Donald Trump, who urged Senate Republicans to block a $19.1 billion in additional disaster aid for impacted areas when Democrats included funds for Puerto Rico. Paul voted against that aid, though it ultimately passed with bipartisan support.

Biden has already pledged to help Kentucky and other impacted states recover from the tragedy.

"The federal government is not going to walk away," Biden said during remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday. "This is one of those times when we aren't Democrats or Republicans. Sounds like hyperbole, but it's real. We're all Americans. We stand together as the United States of America."