The Senate on Thursday passed a long-overdue $19 billion disaster aid bill by a broad bipartisan vote.
The relief measure would deliver money to Southern states suffering from last fall’s hurricanes, Midwestern states deluged with springtime floods and fire-ravaged rural California, among others. Puerto Rico would also get help for hurricane recovery.
The Senate approved the bill by an 85-8 vote. House lawmakers have left for the Memorial Day recess, but the chamber probably will try to pass the bill by voice vote Friday, said a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Trump said he will sign it even though money to deal with the border has been removed.
“I didn’t want to hold that up any longer,” Trump said. “I totally support it.”
Disaster aid bills are invariably bipartisan, but this round bogged down.
Trump originally wanted no money for Puerto Rico before agreeing to $605 million for its food stamp program. But ultimately, Democrats said they secured about $1.4 billion, including money to help Puerto Rico’s cash-poor government meet matching requirements for further disaster rebuilding efforts.
Talks this week over Trump’s border request broke down, however, over conditions Democrats wanted to place on money to provide care and shelter for asylum-seeking Central American migrants. Talks were closely held, but aides said liberal and Hispanic forces among House Democrats could not come to terms with administration demands.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York dictated the terms of the agreement because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was in a procedural box.
Schumer said the bill was virtually the same as what he and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, proposed six weeks ago. He said the bill “could have been passed then. It wasn’t Democrats blocking it.”
Schumer led a filibuster of an earlier version last month over Trump’s refusal to sign off on money to speed further disaster aid to Puerto Rico. He said Democrats “insisted that Puerto Rico get the aid that it needed, along with the rest of America, and it is.”
But border needs are increasingly desperate, and lawmakers will face intense pressure to act when they return next month. Money to house and care for migrants is expected to run out in June.
The disaster aid bill was most urgently sought by southern Republicans such as Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who want to help farmers who lost billions of dollars when Hurricane Michael hit last fall during harvest season. Midwestern Republicans such as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa also pressed for the legislation.
All sides agree that another bill of more than $4 billion will be needed almost immediately to refill nearly empty agency accounts to care for migrants, though Democrats are fighting hard against the detention facilities requested by Trump.
Part of the rush to get the bill through without the refugee aid was to get politically exhausted lawmakers out of Washington, but Republicans controlling the Senate were determined to get disaster aid completed or face the wrath of frustrated constituents.
“Right now the total dollar amounts are pretty close on border security. Democrats and Republicans are pretty much in agreement about it,” said Perdue. “We’re just trying to work out some detailed language, but we didn’t think we could wait any longer to get this done.”
“Well, we’re going to get the immigration money later, according to everybody,” Trump said. “I have to take care of my farmers with the disaster relief.”
Democrats secured a provision that would block Trump from diverting any of the money in the bill for military projects toward building his border wall. Trump has declared a national emergency and has said he is considering transferring up to $3.6 billion from military construction to border barriers.