Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight

Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight
© Stefani Reynolds
Congress appears increasingly unlikely to pass a long-stalled disaster aid package before the Memorial Day recess, with an 11th hour fight over immigration throwing the fate of a deal into limbo. 
 
Negotiators are stuck on how much of the administration's $4.5 billion request for emergency border money to include in a package — a thorny issue that includes political landmines like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention bed funding. 
 
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Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell to force vote next week on Trump border funding request McConnell to force vote next week on Trump border funding request The Hill's Morning Report - Is US weighing military action against Iran? MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters after votes early Wednesday evening that if negotiators were going to be able to get a deal done this week it would need to come together on Wednesday night. 
 
But, instead, a meeting aimed at trying to iron out the remaining hurdles was called off. It was to have included Shelby, Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE (D-Vt.) and Reps. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill as Senate lags House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill as Senate lags On The Money: Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight | House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill | GOP senators, White House delay meeting on spending | Trump hits Fed over high interest rates MORE (D-N.Y.) and Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerDemocrats set stage for next shutdown fight with wall-free spending bill Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight with wall-free spending bill Bottom line MORE (R-Texas), the top members of the House Appropriations Committee.
 
"I think right at the moment it's in abeyance. It's not there yet," Shelby told reporters. 
 
The roadblock leaves little time to get a deal before lawmakers leave town for a one-week Memorial Day recess. The House is expected to leave Thursday, though Senate Republicans have hinted they would be willing to stay until Friday if there is an agreement. 
 
Leahy, asked by The Hill about the chances of getting a deal done this week, suggested lawmakers should be forced to come back next week, when Congress is in recess, if they aren't able to get it done. 
 
"We'll have to cancel the recess. I don't want to do that," Leahy added.
 
Immigration's emergence as a sticking point comes after lawmakers managed to work out several other issues. They say they've reached a deal on aid to Puerto Rico despite Trump's previous criticism of the island territory, and Republicans have jettisoned harbor maintenance funding and a short-term extension of the Violence Against Women Act.
 
The White House's $4.5 billion border money request included $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance. About $1.1 billion would go toward operations such as expanding the number of detention beds and providing more investigation resources.  
 
Shelby told reporters Wednesday morning the debate was stuck on funding for ICE and detention beds for migrants detained along the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
Democrats have agreed to include humanitarian aid as part of an agreement on the disaster package, but a previous offer didn't include the administration's request for more money for ICE detention beds, considered a non-starter for most of the caucus.
 
Aides aren't completely ruling out the possibility of breaking the stalemate and pulling together a deal by early Thursday.
 
Republicans made a new offer to Democrats on Wednesday evening, but also warned that attempts by Democrats to include any new immigration restrictions would be counterproductive to the chances of a deal. 
 
Leahy on Wednesday night pointed to the House as the hold up on getting a disaster aid deal done this week, arguing that he and Shelby were ready to move on a bill. 
 
"We're ready to go," he said, "but the House is not ready to move." 
 
A House Democratic aide said that they would respond to the GOP offer on Wednesday night. But they also shot down a meeting between the top four appropriators, arguing that they weren't interested in "photo op meetings." 
 
"We don’t have any meetings scheduled. We are carefully considering the GOP offer that we received in the last hour and a half," the aide said. "Instead of photo op meetings, we want to iron out the remaining details and get this done."  
 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Jon Stewart rips into McConnell for saying he's 'bent out of shape' over 9/11 victim fund Tensions with Iran reach new stage over uranium threat MORE (R-Ky.) has pledged that he will force the chamber to vote on a disaster aid bill regardless of whether there is a deal that could pass both chambers. McConnell was spotted chatting on the Senate floor with Shelby and Leahy during the Wednesday evening votes.
 
The stalemate is a U-turn from earlier Wednesday when top GOP senators seemed optimistic that they were close to an agreement. 
    
 
"My understanding is at least that most of the issues have been settled," he told reporters.