Senator Shelby says key issues unresolved on disaster aid bill: ‘next week is very pivotal’


U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.,right, and U.S Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., brief reporters following a budget agreement at the U.S. Capitol Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

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(CNN) — A day after bipartisan Senate leaders gave upbeat assessments on the state of talks over a multibillion-dollar disaster relief bill, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee acknowledged there are still key unresolved issues, including whether President Donald Trump would sign the emerging deal.

“We haven’t resolved everything,” Sen. Richard Shelby told reporters on Wednesday in the Capitol.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction. I hope we stay on track. I’ve said, next week is very pivotal on this. A week ago or so, we made a very good offer to the Democrats that they have evaluated. From what they tell us, they like a lot of the stuff,” Shelby said pointing to funds added for Puerto Rico that Democrats insist be included but that Trump opposes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber will vote next week on a bill, even though it is not finalized yet.

Shelby said there are several important issues that need to be settled between congressional Republicans and Democrats and the White House, including what to do about a harbor maintenance fund that is dear to Shelby but opposed by the administration, whether to add $4.5 billion in Southern border funding Trump has asked for, and whether McConnell would put a bill up for a vote next week without knowing in advance if Trump would sign it, a risky gambit that has backfired before.

“One way or another, we intend to vote,” said Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, who also said he expects McConnell “to make sure it’s something the President will sign.”

Speaking on the floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was up to Trump to decide if an eventual bipartisan deal would become law.

“Republicans are realizing that Puerto Ricans cannot be left out of this disaster aid package,” the New York Democrat said. “But now we must avoid poison pills at all costs. President Trump, if he sticks his thumb into this again and asks for something unreasonable, we’ll delay disaster aid once again.”

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