Senate

Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump

The Senate easily cleared a long-stalled disaster aid package after Republicans reached a deal with President Trump to drop border-related provisions from the bill.

 

Senators voted 85-8 on the legislation, which provides $19.1 billion in recovery money for a recent slate of wildfires, hurricanes and storms. GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mike Lee (Utah), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Jim Risch (Idaho) and Mitt Romney (Utah) voted against the bill.

 

The House has already left for the weeklong Memorial Day recess. But a Democratic leadership aide said the caucus supports the measure and hopes to clear it by unanimous consent on Friday. 

 

The Senate's vote came hours after GOP Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and David Perdue (Ga.) talked on the phone with Trump, a conversation in which, according to GOP lawmakers, he told them he would support the bill without the immigration-related language that was a major sticking point to an agreement. 

 

"We've proposed ... that we come forth with a clean disaster package, a lot of things off including border security stuff, just disaster, basically. And the president said OK," Shelby told reporters.

 

The deal, according to a GOP appropriations aide, includes a total of $19.1 billion for disaster recovery. 

 

In a win for Democrats, it also includes $600 million in food stamp money for Puerto Rico and an additional $300 million in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants for the island territory. 

 

The Senate's original disaster bill, which included only the food stamp funding, derailed after Trump criticized Puerto Rico's handling of recovery money during a closed-door GOP lunch. Lawmakers acknowledged earlier this week that they had finalized that portion of the package. 

 

And in reflection of a top priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) it includes a provision making hemp eligible for federal crop insurance.

 

Thursday's vote is a U-turn from Wednesday evening when chances of getting a deal before the week-long Memorial Day recess appeared to be slipping as top negotiators canceled a meeting amid a standoff over how much of Trump's request for emergency border money to put in the bill. 

 

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.  

 

Democrats were on board with including billions in humanitarian aid for the U.S.-Mexico border but had left Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) funding out of their previous offers because it's considered a non-starter for the caucus. Republicans, meanwhile, were accusing Democrats of trying to use the disaster bill to impose new immigration-related restrictions on the administration. 

 

Immigration has emerged as a lightning rod issue during the Trump administration, with both chambers rejecting multiple immigration and border proposals since 2017 and under pressure from their bases to draw red lines for any agreement. 

 

A senior Democratic aide added on Thursday that Democrats secured language in the disaster aid agreement to prohibit the new funding in the package from being transferred to things that were not specifically appropriated for, including the president's wall.

 

"It does not include the humanitarian assistance for the border, which is a real problem, obviously, since they're in trouble being overrun with so many kids," said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) of the final agreement. 

 

But Shelby indicated that appropriators would circle back to the president's request once Congress returns to Washington in June. 

 

"We took it all out ... [but] we're going to try to push that separately when we come back," Shelby said. "It's needed, but we're sticking with disaster now."

 

Trump, asked about the disaster aid bill, told reporters during a farm aid event that he had been told he would get the immigration-related funding later.

 

"We're going to get the immigration money later, according to everybody. I have to take care of my farmers with the disaster relief. If I didn't do that - I mean, really, it's a long time in coming," Trump said.

 

Trump added, "We'll take care of the immigration later. The wall is being built."

 

Shelby told reporters that he told Trump that the Senate would take back up his emergency funding request in June, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) likely to bring it straight to the floor. If the chamber is going to pass a bill granting additional border money it will take 60 votes, including support from Democrats.

 

Aides had indicated on Thursday morning that immigration was still a sticking point that was making it difficult to get to an agreement.

 

Shortly after that, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) publicly floated dropping the immigration language, similar to a suggestion Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) made to Shelby on Wednesday evening. 

"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 idea quickly gained traction with senators - including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) - from states impacted by a recent spate of storms. 

But it wasn't clear until after a closed-door GOP lunch that Trump would back the agreement, and House members spent the morning feuding over the lack of a disaster aid deal. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) blasted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for allowing the House to recess on Thursday without holding a vote on a disaster relief package, alleging the California Democrat allowed members of her caucus' calls for impeachment to get in the way of negotiating a bipartisan deal.

 

"We're incredibly disappointed that Speaker Pelosi is going to gavel out today without addressing disaster relief. We've been trying for months to get help to our farmers, to families who've been suffering, and there was a lot of effort made to try to get an agreement done before we left," he told reporters.

 

Scalise didn't rule out supporting a bipartisan deal agreed upon in the Senate, telling reporters: "However, we can get this job done and help these families. We ought to do it."

-Juliegrace Brufke contributed 

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