WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are signaling a willingness to include major elements of President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion request for humanitarian and security needs on the U.S.-Mexico border in an unrelated, widely backed disaster aid bill that appears to finally be breaking free of a partisan logjam.
Democratic aides said Tuesday that Trump’s request for additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds is off the table, but that Democrats are willing to fund care for more than 360,000 migrants apprehended since October.
A top Democratic senator said a weeks-long fight over aid to Puerto Rico has been settled to Democrats’ satisfaction. But a push by a Senate Republican to boost spending on harbor dredging projects remains a hang-up.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy told reporters Tuesday that “we’ve worked out” a dispute over Puerto Rico. Trump has opposed additional aid to the U.S. island territory, claiming it has gotten plenty of money already to deal with devastation wrought by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.
The disaster legislation has been held up in the Senate amid a fight between Trump and Democrats over aid to Puerto Rico. Trump is feuding with Democratic officials on the island and falsely claims that Puerto Rico has already received $91 billion in aid. Pressure from Trump’s GOP allies, particularly southern Republicans seeking aid for hurricane-slammed farmers, appears to have eroded his opposition to additional aid to the island.
“We’re this close,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., holding his thumb and index finger about two inches apart.
But Shelby’s demand to boost Army Corps of Engineers harbor dredging efforts by liberalizing the budget rules for spending out of a dedicated harbor maintenance fund have run into major opposition from House Republicans and the White House. The Port of Mobile in Shelby’s state would be a major beneficiary of the change.
The addition of border funding to the long-sought hurricane and flood aid measure — which ballooned to $19.1 billion during a House floor debate on Friday — adds a major, tricky element to the already overdue disaster bill. Democrats are particularly agreeable to Trump’s $2.8 billion request to house and care for Central American migrants that are seeking asylum from violence in their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, but the details are nettlesome.
The goal is to reach a House-Senate agreement that could finally speed the bill through the Senate, where Democrats upset over aid to Puerto Rico filibustered a GOP plan last month. The House would then vote to send the legislation to Trump for his signature.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about negotiations.