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Deal over disaster aid in flux as recess fast approaches

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Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could bring disaster aid legislation to the floor even if lawmakers don’t reach a deal on the stalled aid package. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Congress

The bill doesn’t include the additional funds Trump sought for the border.

The Senate passed a long-awaited bipartisan disaster aid package on Thursday after reaching a last-minute deal with President Donald Trump.

In a 85-8 vote, the Senate approved amulti-billion dollar disaster aid bill, which will assist states devastated by wildfires, hurricanes and flooding, comes after months of roadblocks.

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The stalled aid package had faced several setbacks — including over 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. The bill does not include the additional border funds the president sought.

Among the Senators who voted against the bill — all Republicans — were Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Crapo of Idaho, James Risch of Idaho, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah, Mitt Romney of Utah, Martha McSally of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Following the bill, both Republicans and Democrats claimed victory.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that the disaster aid bill gives enough money to Puerto Rico for disaster relief and that Senate Democrats are ready to support the bill.

“We Democrats said that Puerto Rico has to be treated fairly and they are,” Schumer said. “I suggested this morning that we just do disaster and no border and that’s what we’re doing and each time the President messes in things get messed up. It’s better off letting us just do our work.”

Although the House has left for a one-week recess, the legislation could theoretically be approved on a voice vote as soon as Friday, after the Senate passes it Thursday.But Republicans are expected to reject a unanimous consent request, forcing the House to wait until June to pass the Senate bill.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala) predicted Thursday prior to the deal’s announcementthat the multi-billion dollar package had a good chance of passing the Senate if it was only about disaster relief.

The last-minute deal came hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed again Thursday that the Senate would not leave Washington before voting on a disaster aid bill.

“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.”

Failure to reach a deal would have been 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.

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