WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday defended the inclusion of nearly $2 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters in the GOP proposal for more coronavirus relief, with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows calling it a “pressing need.”
But Senate Republicans, many of whom have been decrying the overall $1 trillion price tag of the GOP bill, are objecting to the funding and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sending a strong signal that he would like it stripped out of the bill.
“I would hope that all non-COVID related measures are out no matter what bills they were in at the start,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
July 28, 202002:04
The funding for a new FBI headquarters was added at the insistence of the administration, senators and aides said, causing some Republicans to publicly break with the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of the president, said the inclusion “makes no sense to me.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, “I don’t think it should be in the bill.”
The funding came as a surprise to most Republicans, including Leader McConnell who was caught off guard when asked about it by a reporter. And it’s another flashpoint in the difficult negotiations that McConnell has had with the administration on legislation to provide another round of economic relief during the pandemic.
A new FBI headquarters has been in the works for more than a decade and was slated to move from its current downtown location to a yet-to-be determined site in the Washington suburbs of Maryland or Virginia. Since his election, President Trump has taken an interest in preserving the current site, which is just a few blocks away from his property, Trump International Hotel.
The plans to move the headquarters were abruptly scuttled but an Inspector General report that found that top officials at the General Services Administration, which oversaw the selection of the new headquarters, met with the president multiple times, misrepresented the cost of rebuilding on the current FBI site and misled Congress about the project.
Critics say the president was concerned about an abandoned FBI building at the current location that could be transitioned into a commercial venture and provide competition for his hotel.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said, “My guess is that this is a personal issue for the president of the United States. I think it has as much to do with the fact that his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue as it does with the FBI itself.”
The president last week said the current site “is better.”
“So I’ve been encouraging them to build it,” he added.
Congress on a bipartisan basis has supported the move to a suburban campus, pointing to security requirements.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the FBI headquarters’ move, is supportive of the suburban campus and said he “didn’t expect seeing it” in the bill.
“I’d rather this go through the regular appropriations process,” he said.
The funding undercuts Republicans’ arguments against unnecessary spending. Fiscal hawks have emerged in this round of the relief, presenting a challenge to McConnell who is working to balance the demands of the administration, Democrats and conservatives in his party who oppose another round of federal relief.
“I mean if somebody can explain to me how — I just don’t get it. I mean, how’s it tied to coronavirus?” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said of the FBI proposal.
Julie Tsirkin contributed.