GOP, Dems balk at latest Trump foreign aid cuts

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President Trump is facing bipartisan pushback for cutting off aid to three Central American countries, with lawmakers arguing it would backfire on his efforts to curb illegal immigration.

The two top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees panned the move, and other GOP members in both chambers agreed it would be counterproductive to attempts to reduce the number of migrants fleeing poverty and violence in those nations.

{mosads}Democrats indicated that they will try to prevent the Trump administration from carrying out the cuts through the appropriations process, but are reviewing their options as they await details from the State Department on how funds would be diverted. A Democratic aide said that the department had yet to respond to a Monday deadline to explain how the policy would be implemented.

“Stiff competition, mind you, [but] this is one of his worst ideas,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Politico Playbook event on Tuesday.

Pelosi said that, if anything, aid to the countries known as the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — should be increased.

“I think that we should even do more, and I think that we should make sure the resources are used for the purpose that they are designed for, and that is to improve the safety and quality of life of people so they do not feel the urgency to go endanger their families, to travel so far to take the chance for seeking asylum,” Pelosi said.

Trump announced Friday that he was directing the State Department to end the foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries as a way to motivate them to curb the flow of migrants to the U.S.

“No money goes there anymore,” Trump said. “We’re giving them tremendous aid. We stopped payment.”

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said during a press briefing on Tuesday that Trump’s order would impact about $450 million in aid to the three countries, adding that “we are engaging Congress” regarding the planned reprogramming of funds.

“The president has determined that these programs have not effectively prevented illegal immigration from coming to the United States, and they’ve not achieved the desired results,” Palladino said.

Much of the aid has traditionally gone to nongovernmental organizations, charities and contractors that work on efforts including strengthening police forces, food security and gang violence prevention.

{mosads}Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during an appearance at the Wilson Center on Monday that the U.S. assistance to those countries is “a great return on our investment, because if you can stabilize those nations, then you can take the root causes of the problem away.”

McCaul warned that cutting the funds would “make things tragically worse, not better.” 

Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, also said she disagreed with eliminating all aid to Central American countries.

“While I do not support a complete suspension of all aid, as the President has suggested, I do support reevaluating the way in which aid is delivered to these areas,” Granger said in a statement. “Where programs aren’t working, funds should be redirected. Where programs are working, they should continue to receive our support.”

Other lawmakers called for attaching strings to the aid, rather than cutting it off altogether.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) urged Trump to call a summit with the leaders of the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico to discuss their options.

“Before we take away their money, I’d like to see the president get all the presidents in one room and say, ‘Guys, we got a problem here. What can we do to stop the influx of people from our Central American countries?’ And tie money to specific commitments to help stem the tide,” Kennedy told reporters.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s pushing for the committee to tie aid to increasing security along the Guatemala-Mexico border.

But cutting aid altogether “just doesn’t make sense at all,” said Cuellar, who represents a district along the U.S border with Mexico. “We don’t want this money cut.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, echoed Pelosi in calling for more aid to Northern Triangle counties.

“The problem is that cutting aid may have the opposite effect. It may make the lives of these individuals even worse and thus encourage more of them to flee the countries that they are now leaving. So I’d actually like to see the president consider a different approach, an opposite approach,” Collins told reporters.

Increasing aid, she argued, could “help the countries stem some of the problems that are causing people to leave.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted on Tuesday that reducing the aid, as well as shutting down the border, as Trump has repeatedly threatened, would be “counterproductive.”

“But facing irrational Democrat obstruction to any of the measures needed to address this has left Trump with few options to get everyone’s attention including Congress. We need to act,” Rubio tweeted.

The Trump administration has called for reducing foreign aid in recent years, but Congress has largely ignored those requests. That’s giving lawmakers hope they can do so again.

“Trump has cut this aid every year in his budget. And we put it back every year. So there’s been bipartisan support,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign aid. “It’s fair to say that we’re under active exploration about we can do about it.”

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags David Price Donald Trump John Kennedy Kay Granger Marco Rubio Michael McCaul Nancy Pelosi Susan Collins
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