Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed again Thursday that the Senate would not leave Washington for a week-long recess before voting on a disaster aid bill.
But with negotiations still in flux, it’s not clear what the Senate will be voting on.
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“It’s past time, way past time to bring these negotiations to a close,” he said. “They need to do this today. Because one way or another, the Senate is not leaving without taking action.”
The stalled aid package, which provides $17 billion in much-needed aid for communities hit by natural disasters, has faced several setbacks — including over President Donald Trump’s reluctance to provide more money to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. More recently, talks stalled over a White House request for more border funding.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that the disaster aid portion of the package has been agreed to and that Senate Democrats are ready to support it. He added that any other provisions, like the border supplemental, should be dealt with at a later date.
“If we can’t come to an agreement this morning on the other extraneous issues that the House is discussing, we should set those issues to the side,” Schumer said. “We should pass disaster agreement as is.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he would be open to that and said his Democratic counterpart Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) suggested Wednesday night taking anything non-disaster related out.
“I’ve said always he more we put on an appropriation bill that has not to do with the subject matter like disaster … it loads it up and impedes progress,” he said.
House Democrats sent an offer Wednesday night to Republicans, according to a Democratic aide.
“Not sure if it will get us there or not, but our offer does bring us closer together,” the aide said.
A Senate Republican aide said that staff is still working to reach an agreement and that the holdup is not funding disaster relief but over immigration provisions.
Aides have cited the White House request for funds to help ease the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border and Democratic conditions for asylum as among those provisions.
“We are hopeful we can get there, but we still have difficult issues to resolve,” the aide said.
In the absence of a deal, some raised the possibility that McConnell could bring up disaster aid legislation to the floor that failed in April over Trump’s insistence that Puerto Rico receive less funds.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that if a deal isn’t reached in the next few hours, the senate will “probably end up having a vote on something we’ve voted on before.”
“Hopefully we ll get a deal,” he said.
The clock is ticking on disaster aid, with the House scheduled to leave Thursday. Thune raised the prospect this week that the Senate could stay until Friday to get disaster aid done.
Failure to reach a deal would be an embarrassment for Congress, which once viewed disaster aid negotiations as routine. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have already complained that Congress has not done enough legislatively, including Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) who lambasted both houses on Wednesday for doing “nada. Zero. Zilch.”
Sarah Ferris and Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.