GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package

GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package
© Greg Nash

Senators are discussing dropping border-related money from a disaster aid package, with Republicans working to get President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies MORE on board with the plan.

GOP Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (Ala.) and David Perdue (Ga.) told reporters early Thursday afternoon that they wanted to get Trump on the phone to talk about passing a straight disaster bill, which would drop the humanitarian assistance tied to the border that is a priority of the administration.

The idea has the backing of both Senate Minority Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerColorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator Hickenlooper ends presidential bid MORE (D-N.Y.) and Shelby, the top negotiator for Republican senators, as well a smattering of senators from states that have been impacted by a recent spate of hurricanes, wildfires and storms.

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Shelby said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHouse panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, approached him about the idea on Wednesday night.

"The more we put on an appropriations bill, that has not to do with the subject matter ... it loads it up and it impedes progress," he said.

Asked if he would support dropping the immigration-related provisions, Shelby added that he was "up to that" because it would make a package just "pure disaster."

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Top Foreign Affairs Republican: 'It would benefit all of us' for Omar, Tlaib to visit Israel MORE (R-Fla.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Ga.) both said Thursday that they would support passing a stripped down disaster deal. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.), when asked about the path forward, indicated that senators are working to get sign off from Trump.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have an answer to that soon,” Thune told reporters about Trump’s support.

If the Senate was able to pass a disaster-only bill, the House – which is poised to leave town Thursday – could pass the legislation by a voice vote.

“The House is considering processing a senate-passed disaster bill today, if it passes the senate today,” a Democratic congressional aide said.

Talks are stalled over how much of the administration's $4.5 billion request for emergency border money to include in a package. The thorny issue includes political landmines like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention bed funding.

Top members of the Senate and House Appropriations committees had been expected to meet on Wednesday evening to try to iron out the remaining roadblocks, but that meeting was canceled amid a standoff over the immigration and border issues.

Aides said on Thursday morning that negotiations were ongoing, but immigration-related provisions were still a sticking point even as lawmakers only have hours to craft an agreement.

Schumer first floated the idea of dropping the immigration-related language on the Senate floor.

"If we can't come to an agreement this morning on other extraneous issues that the House is discussing, we should set those issues to the side," Schumer said. "We should pass the disaster agreement as is."

The White House's $4.5 billion border 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.

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.

Updated: 1:45 p.m.