Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from the decision to include nearly $2 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters in the GOP’s proposal for the next round of coronavirus relief.
The package — negotiated by GOP leadership and the Trump administration — includes $1.75 billion for “the design and construction of a Washington, DC headquarters facility for the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” according to the text of the appropriations section of the legislation.
“I don’t know. That makes no sense to me,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters when asked about the inclusion of the funds.
Graham, a close ally of President Trump who is up for reelection, added that he would support removing the language from the bill.
Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, argued that the funding should instead go through the annual government funding bills.
“To me it’s not coronavirus-related,” Barrasso said.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) added that he just didn’t “get it.”
“I mean, how’s it tied to coronavirus?” he asked.
Republicans pointed to the White House for answers on why the funding was in the coronavirus relief bill.
The Trump administration has pushed to keep the new headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The new headquarters was previously expected to be built in a D.C. suburb.
“It’s just a pressing need. Whether it’s this bill or the CR [continuing resolution] later,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Pressed on what it had to do with the coronavirus, Meadows said that “everybody acknowledges” that the bill’s must-pass status makes it a target for other funding.
The inclusion of the funding appeared to catch Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) off guard.
Asked about it at first, he questioned if the funding was in the bill.
A staff member then indicated that it was.
Asked a second time about the funding, the GOP Senate leader told reporters to ask the administration “why they instituted that be included.”
“Well regarding that proposal obviously we had to have an agreement with the administration in order to get started. And they’ll have to answer the question of why they insisted on that provision,” he said.
The General Services Administration and FBI had long pursued plans to build a new campus outside of downtown D.C. and in the suburbs — two sites in Maryland and one in Northern Virginia made the shortlist.
But Trump canceled those plans shortly after taking office and has pushed for a new building for the federal law enforcement agency at the current site of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Trump still owns the nearby Trump International Hotel and there’s been accusations of conflicts of interest in the decision to nix the FBI’s move to the suburbs.
Earlier plans called for handing the Hoover site to a developer after the FBI moved out to help activate Pennsylvania Avenue.
That plan could include a hotel that would compete against Trump’s luxury hotel.
“They managed to have enough money for $2 billion for the FBI headquarters that benefits Trump hotel, and they say they have no money for food assistance. What the heck is going on?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “We just found out it was in it as we read it.”
a reminder that the fbi building stays where it is right now, it doesn’t open space for a potential competing hotel right up the street from the Trump Hotel https://t.co/Bm81O7v9nY
— Steven Rich (@dataeditor) July 27, 2020
The Justice Department’s inspector general is in the midst of an investigation of how and why the Trump administration came to the decision to ax the suburban FBI headquarters plan. The inquiry was launched in July 2019.