- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2019

Congress struck a deal on a disaster aid package Thursday, covering states and Puerto Rico for catastrophes over the last two years but leaving out billions of dollars President Trump wanted to deal with the border crisis.

Mr. Trump said he will sign the deal but expects the emergency border money to be approved soon.

The bill includes $19.1 billion for disaster-stricken areas, covering everything from farmers’ losses to housing assistance to rebuilding military bases damaged by storms. Some $600 million is earmarked specifically for food assistance in Puerto Rico — a key priority of Democrats and a major sticking point for Mr. Trump, who said the island has already claimed a record amount of aid.

Left behind is $4.5 billion in border money, most of it humanitarian assistance, to better house and care for the surge of migrants that has overwhelmed the border, forced localities to declare states of emergency, and led to the deaths of children.

The deal cleared the Senate on an 85-8 vote.

It still needs House passage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had sent her chamber home for a 10-day Memorial Day vacation, but they were exploring the possibility of passing the deal during one of the pro forma sessions scheduled during that time.

Democrats said they won the negotiations, saying the bill looks much like what they had proposed early on. They said they refused to cave to Mr. Trump’s request for border money and said the breakthrough came when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Mr. Trump he wasn’t getting it.

“Leader McConnell had to call him up and say, ‘I’m not putting border in the bill, sign it,’” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the top Democrat in the chamber.

He praised Republicans for being willing to sideline the president and strike a deal.

“I think it means that Republicans are learning they’re going to have to break from the president if they’re going to get anything done,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Trump seemed undisturbed and signaled he will sign the bill as-is.

“I totally support it. I’d like to see it happen. We’ll take care of immigration later,” he said.

Mr. McConnell said the deal was a good one — but he excoriated Democrats for ignoring the border crisis.

“This wasn’t money for the wall, or even for law enforcement. It was money so that the federal government could continue to house, feed and care for the men, women, and children showing up on our southern border,” the Kentucky Republican said.

A Republican aide said the issue wasn’t the level of funding, but other restrictions Democrats wanted to write into the bill to limit the president’s authority to carry out his immigration policies.

“I’m sorry that partisan spite has infected even such blindingly obvious priorities as the humanitarian efforts on our own southern border,” Mr. McConnell said.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which was slated to receive most of the $4.5 billion, is responsible for caring for the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) caught at the border. The department says without an infusion of cash soon, it will run out of money and will have to cut assistance to refugees and human trafficking victims.

Other money in the president’s request was intended to keep Border Patrol agents on the job and to help construct better facilities so children and families don’t have to be processed and kept in facilities meant to detain single adults for a few hours.

All eight senators who voted against the bill Thursday were Republicans.

Among them was Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican whose state has been particularly hard-hit by the border crisis.

She said that qualifies as a “disaster” that deserved help in the latest bill.

“Some politicians may want to ignore this crisis — but this is real in Arizona and any compromise disaster supplemental appropriations bill should have included this desperately needed funding,” she said.

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