Senate

Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight

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. 

 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (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 Leahy (D-Vt.) and Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Kay Granger (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 McConnell (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. 

    

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, added that it wasn't "final until it's final" but hinted that they were close. 

 

"My understanding is at least that most of the issues have been settled," he told reporters.
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