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Senate GOP Balks At White House Push For New FBI Headquarters In COVID-19 Relief Bill

A number of Senate Republicans say they oppose a White House request to include money to renovate the FBI headquarters in the upcoming coronavirus relief package.
J. David Ake
A number of Senate Republicans say they oppose a White House request to include money to renovate the FBI headquarters in the upcoming coronavirus relief package.

Senate Republicans are rejecting a White House-backed plan to tuck money for the design and construction of a new FBI headquarters into the latest coronavirus relief bill despite including the funding in a GOP proposal released on Monday.

Republicans rapidly criticized the provision less than a day after the legislation was unveiled. Democrats have accused President Trump of including the money to prevent the existing FBI building, which is across from the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., from being sold and redeveloped into a hotel that might compete with the Trump property.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he does not support the funding on the grounds that it isn't related to immediate coronavirus needs.

"I am opposed to non-germane amendments," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all the non-COVID-related measures are out, no matter what bills they were in at the start."

Many Senate Republicans objected to the money despite a push from White House officials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., included the request on the list of items they opposed immediately after reviewing the bill Monday.

"They didn't have money for food stamps, but they had money for an FBI building just so that they can diminish competition for the president's hotel," Pelosi told reporters. "I don't even think Mitch McConnell knew that was in the bill."

When asked about the issue at a Monday press conference with other Senate Republicans rolling out their bill, McConnell seemed unclear about whether or not the money was included in the legislation and then suggested reporters ask the Trump administration about it.

There has a been a long-standing fight over plans to relocate the FBI from its aging headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, blocks from the White House, to an updated facility. Lawmakers from Virginia and Maryland had been fighting over the future location for years before Trump abandoned plans for the move in 2018.

At the time, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., requested an investigation into the canceled plans, arguing that "the Trump Organization has a long-standing and documented interest in the Hoover property."

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, meeting with top Democratic leaders and GOP senators to discuss the legislation again and the next steps.

Meadows said the FBI building was a "pressing need" but suggested it could go in this bill or a future spending one to fund the government in the fall.

Asked how much the administration would insist it remain in the relief bill, Meadows said, "I don't see it standing in the way of a deal."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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