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FEMA chief questions agency’s role, urges more local response

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The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday said the wave of recent U.S. disasters, from multiple storms to raging wildfires, must redefine the agency’s role and that localities must be more prepared to shoulder crises.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long told Congress members the scale of assisting victims and rebuilding damaged areas has tested the agency, busted budgets and strained resources, and that more of the nation’s emergency response must fall on its citizenry.

“It is time to question what is FEMA’s role in disaster response and recovery,” Long said before the U.S House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee. “FEMA … (was) never designed to be the first responder and the only responder in a disaster, but in many cases that’s where we find ourselves.”

The hearing came as the Trump administration is seeking another infusion of funds to shore up FEMA’s efforts after several hurricanes this year wrecked parts of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and wildfires devastated swaths of California.

FEMA is making its third supplemental request seeking $44 billion in additional funds from Congress as it struggles to provide aid after Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, which flooded Houston and left most of Puerto Rico without power.

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In October, Congress approved $36.5 billion in emergency relief after approving another $15.25 billion in September.

Long said he would make a fourth request if needed, but that for now FEMA should be able to absorb the costs.

Congress must juggle FEMA’s latest request with larger budget issues as it seeks to fund the overall federal government before funding runs out next month.

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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking at his weekly news conference, said the next disaster aid package would not be ready for House passage as part of a stopgap federal funding bill Congress is hoping to complete before Dec. 8.

Republican Representative John Carter, who chaired the panel hearing, told Long, “We will get it done.”

Emergency funding is particularly critical for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where the island of 3.4 million Americans is in bankruptcy amid $72 billion in debt. Private- sector estimates of total damage from Maria have ranged as high as $95 billion.

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Earlier in November, the Trump administration agreed to expand the use of disaster aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

On Thursday, Long said the scale of the disaster raised questions about FEMA’s responsibilities when areas like Puerto Rico already suffered from weak infrastructure, damaged roads and vulnerable housing.

“I don’t think you can put it back to a pre-disaster condition,” he said.

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Long argued that FEMA’s expertise is not in areas such as housing or ensuring the long-term viability of a community.

Instead, he said, more states and cities need healthy cash reserves and need to be prepared to push out emergency food and water. Local citizens also need first-aid and other skills, he added.

“It’s time to hit the reset button on how we become resilient. … Citizens are the true first responders.”

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(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Katanga Johnson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)


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DC Report

News flash: Trump’s no racist!

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The gap that Donald Trump continually shows us between word and deed is remarkable. He lets words hurt while ignoring the substance of what the words mean.

That public words that various people, from both in and out of government or politics, say about him seem to matter a whole lot more than actual events, scandals or bad governmental behavior reflecting on his presidency. We’re used to it by now, numb really, so, it seems useful to step back and look at the pattern.

Even so, his tweets on Sunday telling four rebellious first-year congresswomen, citizens who are all of color, that they should return to where they came from “to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” is an insult that crosses all borders. As it happens, three of the four are American-born, and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mich.) has been a naturalized citizen since age 12.

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Morning Joe panel brutally dismantles Lindsey Graham for doubling down and backing Trump’s extreme racism

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough was left speechless by Sen. Lindsey Graham's impassioned defense of President Donald Trump's racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen.

The "Morning Joe" host sat in stunned silence after rolling video of the South Carolina Republican defending Trump's tweets, and doubling down by hurling his own slurs against the first-year lawmakers.

"You call Americans in Congress communists?" Scarborough said, after gathering his thoughts, "and you say they hate America? And then your punch line to that is aim higher?"

Scarborough, who served alongside Graham as a Republican congressman, said the episode was a shameful new low for the veteran lawmaker.

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DC Report

Trump administration reopens dangerous ‘longline’ fishing off California

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The Pacific leatherback sea turtle, at up to 2,200 pounds the largest turtle on earth, could disappear from our oceans, yet Trump regulators have OK’d a type of fishing that could wipe out the massive animals.

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are one of eight turtle species the Fisheries Service has identified as most at risk of extinction. The number of West Pacific leatherback sea turtles declined about 6% a year from the 1980s through 2011.

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