Back in March, Republicans summoned all of their outrage when Democrats tried to attach money for voter protection, airline air quality standards and clean-energy incentives to Congress’ most recent coronavirus relief package. Now, four months later, the same Republicans are sheepishly trying to tack-on almost $1.8 billion for a new F.B.I. headquarters in the follow-up piece of legislation.
The first $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package was extravagant but widely deemed necessary, including an unprecedented small-business bailout, a lifeline for the airlines and generous unemployment benefits that saw many workers actually increase their take-home pay after losing their jobs. The second round is shaping up along similar lines, though some fiscal conservatives in the Senate are showing signs of balking in a rare defiance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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But the inclusion of $1.75 billion to spend on the new F.B.I. headquarters – buried in 108 short words on pages 11 and 12 of the Appropriations Committee piece of the offer – rankled Republicans up and down the Leadership ladder when it was included in the draft of the relief plan released on Monday. At first, it seemed McConnell was not aware that the draft legislation included the new headquarters for the nation’s top investigators. When first questioned about it by reporters, McConnell denied it. When corrected, the dry Kentuckian only told his audience to look for answers at the White House. “You’ll have to ask them why they insisted that be included,” he said.
The timing could not be clunkier for a Republican Party at risk of losing its majority in the Senate as President Donald Trump’s re-election grow shakier. While all GOP lawmakers — with the exception of Mitt Romney — found ways to excuse Trump’s behavior that led to his impeachment in the House and acquittal in the Senate back in January, the ground has now shifted. A number of vulnerable Senators have started to distance themselves from Trump as his approval ratings have tumbled with the arrival of the pandemic.
The Justice Department is now more than a year into its own internal investigation into why Trump scrapped well-laid out plans in 2018 to move the falling-apart F.B.I. headquarters from downtown D.C. to the suburbs amid speculation that the current plot of land could be ripe for redevelopment as a hotel. Lost on no one is the fact that Trump’s own D.C. hotel is across the street from the current headquarters – and may prefer to keep feds and not rivals as neighbors.
So bold was the attempt to squeeze a replacement for the dilapidated F.B.I. H.Q. into the draft bill that the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee could only respond gruffly as to why the spending was included. “Good question,” Sen. Richard Shelby told reporters on Monday at the Capitol. Never mind that it was his committee staff included the terse spending provision in the proposal. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee that has oversight of the F.B.I. was equally ready to boot the new headquarters from the proposed legislation. “It makes no sense to me,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday.
With a fractured caucus like this, it’s little wonder McConnell is looking around with weariness. There is little optimism that anyone will draw up plans for a new F.B.I. headquarters based on the legislation being passed around the Capitol right now. But, because Trump demanded it, Senate Republicans have to at least pretend they’re considering it — and to take the lumps that come with looking like hypocrites on wish-list add-ons.
A version of this article first appeared in The DC Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox every weekday.
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