GOP senators question inclusion of FBI funding in coronavirus bill

Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from the decision to include nearly $2 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters in the GOP's proposal for the next round of coronavirus relief.  

The package — negotiated by GOP leadership and the Trump administration — includes $1.75 billion for "the design and construction of a Washington, DC headquarters facility for the Federal Bureau of Investigation," according to the text of the appropriations section of the legislation.  

"I don’t know. That makes no sense to me," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters when asked about the inclusion of the funds.

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Graham, a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE who is up for reelection, added that he would support removing the language from the bill. 

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, argued that the funding should instead go through the annual government funding bills. 

"To me it's not coronavirus-related," Barrasso said. 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) added that he just didn't "get it." 

"I mean, how's it tied to coronavirus?" he asked. 

Republicans pointed to the White House for answers on why the funding was in the coronavirus relief bill. The Trump administration has pushed to keep the new headquarters in Washington, D.C. The new headquarters was previously expected to be built in a D.C. suburb.

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"it's just a pressing need. Whether it's this bill or the CR [continuing resolution] later," said White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Overnight Health Care: Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate | Top Fed official says quick reopenings damaged recovery from coronavirus | Nearly three dozen health experts object to HHS coronavirus database Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE.

Pressed on what it had to do with the coronavirus, Meadows said that "everybody acknowledges" that the bill's must-pass status makes it a target for other funding. 

"I don't see it standing in the way of us getting a deal," Meadows said. 

But Democrats have signaled that they are opposed to including the funding in the final bill. And, in a blow to the Trump administration's efforts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) said he also wants it out.

"I am opposed to non-germane amendments whether it's funding for the FBI building or for example in the House bill ... the tax cuts for high-income earners," McConnell said after a closed-door Senate GOP lunch with Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' US Chamber asks Treasury to clear up 'serious concerns' about payroll tax deferral Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate MORE.

"When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-COVID related measures are out, no matter what bills they were in at the start," he added.

The inclusion of the funding appeared to catch McConnell off guard on Monday evening.

Asked about it at first, he questioned if the funding was in the bill. A staff member then indicated that it was. 

Asked a second time about the funding, the GOP Senate leader told reporters to ask the administration "why they instituted that be included." 

"Well regarding that proposal obviously we had to have an agreement with the administration in order to get started. And they'll have to answer the question of why they insisted on that provision," he said.

--This report was updated at 3:44 p.m.