Trump officials defend decision to send FEMA funds to ICE ahead of Hurricane Dorian

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, en route to Camp David in Maryland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(NBC) – Trump administration officials said Sunday that transferring $155 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to Immigration and Customs Enforcement won’t affect the federal government’s ability to respond to Hurricane Dorian, a massive storm headed for the country’s east coast.

As NBC News reported last week, the Department of Homeland Security notified Congress in July that to increase funding for court hearings for asylum seekers, FEMA would transfer $155 million to ICE.

In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said “no money has been moved yet.”

“Any potential transfers will not impact our ability to respond to this storm or any other storms in the rest of the hurricane season,” he said. “There are two different elements of the disaster recovery fund. The major disaster fund has $25 billion in it. So, a $155 million transfer from the base fund is not going to affect our ability to respond and recover from a major disaster.”

McAleenan said his agency “needed that funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to respond to the ongoing humanitarian and border security crisis at the border.”

“Congress didn’t see fit to provide that funding,” he added. “So we have to look at departmental sources across that have a limited impact, but will support the ongoing management of that crisis as well.”

Pete Gaynor, acting FEMA administrator, told “Fox News Sunday” the agency has “plenty of money and resources to deal with the 2017 and 2018 disasters and recoveries and to include response in 2019, this season.”

“We live with risk every day,” he said, adding, “We assess that $155 million is low risk and is not affecting our preparedness whatsoever for Dorian.”

Dorian on Sunday strengthened to a “catastrophic” Category 5 storm as it closed in on the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said. Michael Lowry, a strategic planner with FEMA, tweeted the storm was now one of the seven strongest ever recorded, dating back to the 1850s. Forecasters said the storm was expected to get close to Florida, but make landfall in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Speaking to reporters outside of Marine One on Sunday, Trump said the storm “appears to be bigger than we’ve ever seen.

“That’s the problem,” Trump said. “We don’t know where it’s going to hit, seems to be going to Florida, now it should be going to Georgia, the Carolinas. Alabama to get a bit of a beat down. You’ll be learning more probably over the course of the next 24 hours.”

It was unclear why Trump referenced Alabama, which is not in the hurricane’s projected path.

“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” Trump tweeted earlier Sunday. “Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

Speaking with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas and a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, said he was “really disappointed” that Trump “proposed taking money from FEMA in the middle of hurricane season for walls or cages or militarization of the border that we do not need.”

“As president I would fully fund FEMA,” he said. “I would invest in the resiliency of communities in Florida and Georgia, the Carolinas, and Puerto Rico to make sure that they’re ready for the next storm because the scientists have told (us) these storms are only going to become more frequent, more devastating, and more deadly as the climate continues to change.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., suggested a correlation between climate change and stronger hurricanes.

“Well, first off we know climate is changing and then we know our storms seem to be getting bigger,” Scott said, adding, “We don’t know what the cause is but we’ve got to react to it.”

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