Private immigrant detention firm gives $45K to pro-Trump fundraising group

The political arm of one of the country’s leading operators of federally-contracted immigrant detention facilities last month donated $45,000 to a joint fundraising committee supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, according to a recent Federal Election Commission filing.

A political action committee representing the GEO Group, Inc., made the donation on July 27 to the Trump Victory fund, a joint committee also supporting the Republican National Committee and 11 state parties. Donors to GEO's PAC are almost entirely employees of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company.

The GEO Group contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice, and foreign, state and local governments to operate detention and correctional facilities around the country. In 2015, it oversaw 64 facilities comprising 75,145 beds, according to an annual report.

Pablo Paez, the GEO Group’s vice president for corporate relations, declined to comment specifically on the donation, citing company policy.

“Our company's political activities are aimed at promoting the benefits of public-private partnerships in the provision of correctional and detention management services as well as offender rehabilitation and community reentry programs at both the federal level and in state and local jurisdictions across the country,” Paez wrote in an email.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The donation came weeks before the Justice Department said it would phase out its practice of hiring private prison companies — the GEO Group among them — to operate 13 correctional facilities. The group’s stock price plunged following the announcement even though ICE, the group’s biggest customer, indicated it would continue its private detention contracts.

Nearly a fifth of the company’s business — the largest share — comes from contracts with ICE, according to its 2015 annual report. The company reported 10 percent growth, including new deals with ICE, and $1.84 billion in total revenue last year.

“For many years now, the private prison industry has recognized that immigration enforcement and detention is an incredibly lucrative industry for them,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The company declined to say whether the donation is a result of Trump’s support for what critics say are harsh immigration enforcement policies. The GOP nominee has not weighed in on private contracts for immigrant detention, but told MSNBC in March he supports private prisons generally.

“I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons,” he said. “It seems to work a lot better.”

Trump’s Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has said she will end the federal government’s use of private prisons. (Last year, VICE reported that a pro-Clinton super PAC received around $13,000 from firms connected with the GEO Group.)

“[Trump has] made it clear he plans to run a much more aggressive immigration policy that focuses on deportation and law enforcement,” Chen said. "It makes a great deal of sense that the private prison industry would want to support the candidate that wants to detain and deport more people.”

The company’s political committee has donated to both Republicans and Democrats, according to the FEC database.

Previously, the group supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president, donating at least $5,000 that was re-designated to Rubio’s Senate reelection effort after he dropped out in March, according to the FEC database. Last month, the group donated an additional $9,750 to the Senate campaign.

The group has also donated to House and Senate Republicans who oversee ICE, the U.S. Border Patrol and other immigration authorities. Those include the chairmen of both homeland security committees, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Rep. Michael T. McCaul, R-Texas, as well as House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the Judiciary immigration subcommittee.

Congressional appropriators who set funding levels for ICE — including how much should be spent on immigrant detention — also received donations from the GEO Group. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. John Carter, his House counterpart, both received $2,500 in 2015.

“It’s certainly in their interest to lobby not only Congress but also the executive branch to make sure private prisons are maintained and the contracts are maintained,” Chen said.

The number of facilities the company operates for ICE fluctuates.

In 2013, the company operated seven facilities with more than 7,000 beds between them, according to a study by the National Immigration Forum, a center-right advocacy group. Last year, the company signed deals with ICE to maintain oversight of a 700-bed facility in Florida and a 1,575-bed facility in Washington.

It also completed expansions at two ICE facilities, including one — the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas — where the Obama administration detains asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America. The group also opened a 400-bed ICE facility in Mesa Verde, Calif., according to its annual report.

“They see immigration enforcement and immigration detention as a cash cow for the industry,” Chen said.

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Vice President Joseph Biden, Jr., said Thursday he still expects the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will close before the Obama administration leaves office in January.

"That is my hope and expectation," Biden said during a press conference in Sweden.

His comment came several days after Obama’s chief spokesman revealed the president still intends to shutter the controversial terrorist detention center before his last day in office on Jan. 20.

[McCain Bill Reignites Debate Over Guantanamo]

“The president is still aiming to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by the end of his term,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday. He reiterated those intentions on Wednesday. Earnest said there are still 61 prisoners at Gitmo, including 20 that have been cleared for transfer to other countries.

As the administration has encountered congressional resistance to the president’s desire to close the prison, Obama has been steadily transferring detainees it concludes are not a threat to countries willing to take them.

[Defense Bill Passes After Democrats Last-Ditch Attempts to Change it]

Asked if Obama is mulling using his executive powers to close the prison, a White House official said the administration's approach toward its goal still includes lawmakers.

"We want to see the detention facility at Guantanamo closed, and we have submitted a plan to Congress for doing so," the official said. "Our priority remains working with Congress to get this done."

The number of Gitmo detainees in January fell below 100 for the first time since the prison opened more than a dozen years ago.

The White House’s renewed — and cryptic — utterances about shuttering the prison will again draw the ire of congressional Republicans, who have time and again passed bills containing provisions aimed at blocking Obama from his desired goal.

For instance, a fiscal 2016 Pentagon policy bill passed last November prohibits the use of government funds to transfer any Guantanamo detainee to the United States or to build facilities in which to hold them.

[White House: Guantanamo Closure Remains Obama Priority]

And the House has passed its version of a fiscal 2017 Pentagon measure that, if included in the final bill, would mandate that no prisoner may leave there. That same bill would prevent any money being spent to even study U.S. sites that might be alternative places to house Guantanamo detainees.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was among the Republicans who promptly reacted to Biden's comments. He expressed his view succinctly on Twitter, with a one-word post: "Nope."

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told Roll Call earlier this year that should Obama use an executive order to close the prison, it would effectively kill the rest of his legislative agenda. Republicans would be so angry, they likely would table even the things on which they and Obama might find common ground after the election, including his proposed trade deal with Asian countries, Lott said.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Obama's first-term secretary of state, supports closing Gitmo. Her GOP opponent, Donald Trump, wants to keep it open, saying he would "load it up with bad dudes" and even try Americans accused of terrorism charges there.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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The White House appears to sense an opportunity in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent outreach to African-Americans.

Speaking in Michigan on Friday, Trump made a pitch for black voters to support him in November. "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed,” Trump said.

And in an unconventional plea for their support, he added: “What the hell do you have to lose?"

[Private Immigrant Detention Firm Gave $45K to Trump Fundraising Group]

The White House seems eager for voters to compare Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s record and proposals to those of her Republican rival.

Asked Thursday about Trump’s pitch, President Barack Obama’s top spokesman opted against criticizing the real estate mogul’s gloomy message — and later disputed the notion that African-Americans are worse off today than in the past.

“The president does believe that these are the kinds of debate we should have,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. He added that both candidates’ agendas should be “carefully scrutinized” before voters “draw their own conclusions.”

Polls suggest Clinton could win up to 95 percent of the African-American vote in November.

[Biden's 'Expectation' is Obama Will Close Gitmo Prison]

Earnest also disputed the notion that African-Americans are worse off economically than when Obama took office in January 2009.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to make a case that the African-American community is not better off,” he said.

“Everyone,” including blacks, would be hurt by the tax cuts Trump is proposing for the wealthiest Americans, Earnest said.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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Is there anything members of Congress love more than the chance to haul a wayward CEO to Capitol Hill to lecture them about their companies’ un-American transgressions? The CEOs of the Wall Street banks got the indignant Hill treatment in 2008 after the mortgage meltdown. The CEOs of the Big Three car companies did too, only to be scolded at a later hearing for flying private jets to Washington for the first one.

Man-child and bad boy pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli sat in front of House members for hours during a House Oversight hearing in February while angry committee members unloaded on him for price gouging, spurred on by the fact that Shkreli had taken the Fifth at the start of the hearing and called them “imbeciles” on Twitter before and after he appeared in Washington.

So it’s easy to imagine the public shaming that would be waiting Heather Bresch on Capitol Hill in September under normal circumstances.

[Blumenthal: Manchin Connection Shouldn't Affect EpiPen Investigation]

Bresch is the CEO of Mylan, the company that has been hiking the price of the EpiPen, the only available single-dose epinephrine system for people severely allergic to anything from peanuts to bee stings. Since Mylan bought the EpiPen from Merck in 2007, the wholesale price for a two-dose pack has jumped from about $100 to more than $600 this year, a price the American Medical Association called “exorbitant” on Wednesday, especially with the actual cost of the drug still at about $1 per dose.

Even with that disparity, you could make the case that $600 is still a bargain to save anyone’s life. But people buy EpiPens to stash around their homes, schools and offices in case of a severe allergic reaction, not to treat an individual episode. So they’re typically buying six to 12 doses of a drug they hope they’ll never use and restocking it every 12 months when it expires.

Since many families are buying them for young children, Mylan’s own literature recommends stocking separate double-doses of EpiPens for “home, babysitter, work, relatives, school, and travel,” including backpacks and additional family cars.

To quickly see how widespread the use of EpiPens is, I asked six friends with young children if anyone in their family uses an EpiPen and if they are running into problems with the cost. Of the six women, four stock EpiPens in their homes, cars and children’s schools for their children with allergies.

[Trade Deal May Undercut Efforts to Control Drug Prices]

But all four women have delayed buying this year’s supply because of Mylan’s price hike. Although none of the children’s allergies has ever been life-threatening before, one mom explained, “The doctors say, ‘You never know when it could turn life-threatening with allergies,’ so it’s super scary.” Another said her prescriptions had expired but she hasn't replaced them because the price is just too high. "What do I do?"

Bresch and Mylan have said that they have programs to make EpiPens more affordable. One program, which Mylan calls the “Co-Pay Card” promises that consumers can get six doses of the drug for “$0.” But the fine print on the program specifies that the offer only covers $100 of the $600 price of a two-dose pack and is not valid for anyone on Tricare or any other federal or state health care program or in an “ineligible” insurance program.

Even people with insurance are routinely paying up to $300 out of pocket for each two-pack, which quickly adds up to $900 or $1,200 that a family may or may not have in the bank.

Add to these details the fact that the Mylan CEO’s compensation has spiked more than 671% in the same time frame, to $18.9 million last year, and the Outraged Congressional Hearing script practically writes itself. Or it would, if Bresch were anyone other than the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat.

[Joe Manchin Is Open for Legislative Business]

It’s hard to imagine the U.S. Senate dragging the daughter of one of their own up to Capitol Hill to face the same kind of grilling Shkreli or other tainted corporate leaders have endured in years past, but they should. If there is a case to make for the price increases, Bresch, as the CEO, can make it. If there is outrage to be heard over the effect the skyrocketing prices are having on parents, who literally fear for their children’s lives, Bresch should hear it.

No matter how painful it might be for Sen. Manchin to see his colleagues interrogate his daughter, I promise it won't compare to the pit in the stomach of a mother or father this week staring at a $900 bill for EpiPens and thinking to themselves, "What do I do?"

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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Memo to Trump: It's Too Late to Pivot

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Could President Trump Count on Republicans to Pass His Agenda?

Much of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has seemed ad hoc, from the off-the-cuff remarks to campaign staff turnover. And all evidence suggests a President Trump would advance his legislative agenda in the same impromptu manner.

The controversial Republican nominee’s policy proposals and pronouncements do not fit neatly into an ideological box. While President George W. Bush could count on Republicans in both chambers to support most of his legislative asks, experts say Trump would likely lack such a dependable bloc of partners.

For instance, it is unclear how the billionaire and former reality television star would secure the 60 votes in the Senate needed to pass spending and policy legislation. In fact, William Galston, a former Bill Clinton adviser, now at the Brookings Institution, summed up the situation this way: “Sixty? I don't see how he could get to 50.”

['Believe it or Not,' Trump Has 'Regret']

Trump and his aides would have to assemble improvised, temporary coalitions to pass his more controversial proposals, experts say. And should Trump prove unable — or uninterested — in outreach, congressional leaders would have to choose between sending him bipartisan bills and doing very little.

Here are a handful of members who would be key to a Trump agenda:

Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been lukewarm about many of Trump’s campaign-trail pronouncements, saying that they fail to reflect the beliefs of the GOP or the United States. The Wisconsin Republican might be even less excited about the legislative proposals of his party's nominee should Trump win in November and Republicans maintain control of the House.

Ryan is the quintessential Washington wonk. Trump puts gut instincts above the thick plans favored by the former Ways and Means chairman. The pair's rocky relationship does not conjure images of a coordinated effort to move the kind of conservative legislation that has defined Ryan’s career to Trump’s desk.

Trump could have at some point during the campaign endorsed part of Ryan’s carefully written House Republican agenda. So far, however, Trump has ignored Ryan’s work.

“Ryan has already put his moral political soul in jeopardy by endorsing [Trump]. If he simply goes along … with Trump’s agenda, the entire Washington press corps will have a bunch of quotes to throw back at him,” Galston said. “So I agree that Ryan likely would choose to just not put Trump’s bills on floor ... I would expect the speaker would focus on his own agenda and focus on Donald Trump’s agenda only if some items match conservative goals — and that’s probably a minority of issues.”

The bombastic New York billionaire has raised eyebrows among Republican national security hawks by advancing ideas that, to them, sound isolationist. For instance, he has proposed that a Trump administration would not defend NATO members if they were attacked, suggested that the U.S. should focus mostly on domestic matters, and called the American military “a disaster” unable to win the country’s armed conflicts.

[Biden: Trump 'Not Qualified to Know' Nuclear Codes]

“Trump lacks the character, values and experience to be president,” a group of Republican security experts, many of them former advisers to Bush, wrote in a letter last week. “He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world.”

Lawmakers from both parties will have chances to block, alter or delay any major security policy changes Trump might pursue as president. “On defense policy, this will be driven by the ‘Big Eight’ [chairmen and ranking members of congressional defense panels] as is tradition,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a former Senate defense policy aide now at the American Enterprise Institute. “Chief among them will be [Senate Armed Services ranking member] Jack Reed,” she said. The Rhode Island Democrat could become chairman if control of the Senate flips.

But a few still-fresh GOP faces could align with Trump on certain issues. “There are a few others moving up in influence. First to come to mind is [Arkansas] Sen. Tom Cotton,” Eaglen said. “He is poised to become a GOP party leader on national security issues — especially in the Senate — and with it the ability to sway increasing number of votes on key issues.”

There are a few pro-Trump Republicans whom observers believe would accommodate his legislative whims. But their camp is too small to pass legislation alone.

Experts say House tea party Republicans would likely get behind some of Trump’s anti-spending, anti-immigrant and isolationist plans. Across the Capitol, there is Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabamian who helped craft the nominee’s controversial immigration plan.

[Wyden, Murphy to Push Tax Legislation Aimed at Trump]

“If I were advising a President Trump, I would tell him to spend as a little time as possible with Sessions and as much time as possible with [Sen.] Bob Corker,” Galston said of the former Chattanooga, Tennessee, mayor. “Corker is a pretty straightforward, old-fashioned advocate of economic development, and sensible ways of promoting it. … Corker has actually built something, a vibrant city. Trump should respect that. But Sessions would reinforce all of what has so many members hesitant about supporting Trump.”

Trump’s children aren’t members of Congress. But as his tumultuous White House bid has shown, the GOP nominee values his own counsel first, his family’s second and everyone else’s a distant third.

While a President Trump might listen to Sessions, Ryan and McConnell from time to time, it’s a safer bet that Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump would become his closest advisers on legislating — or going it alone via executive actions.

“He would need to listen to a whole bunch of people,” Galston said. “He seems willing to listen to a very few people outside of his family. If I were to list the members in Congress on both sides of the aisle that know more than Mr. Trump on policy, I’d need the rest of the afternoon.”

And what happens if Trump tires of the painstaking work of regularly building coalitions by twisting arms and charming members?

“Congress could have more power because he would have no real policy agenda,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky who works on social policy issues at the Third Way think tank. “If leadership decides to put together bipartisan pieces of legislation, it would put the policymaking power back with Congress.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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Policy

Louisiana Flood Relief May Not Require Extra Federal Spending

President Barack Obama makes a highly anticipated visit to flood-ravaged Louisiana on Tuesday with the federal government already busy repairing damage to a large swath of the state and drawing down disaster relief funds.

It appears unlikely that the flood recovery will require additional emergency spending by Congress to address the needs of victims, federal officials say.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency official expressed confidence in a statement that sufficient dollars are in place. “Congress has appropriated the necessary funding to address disasters for this fiscal year. FEMA has enough funding to address response and recovery support to Louisiana,” said Rafael Lemaitre, the agency's director of public affairs.

Still, the devastation from the second major disaster declared in the state this year raises questions about how quickly and efficiently state and federal government officials will be able to respond. At least 60,733 homes have been damaged by floods this month, according to preliminary estimates provided by affected parishes to the Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. According to most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 41 percent of the state’s residents live in parishes affected by the August floods.

Following this month’s rains, 20 parishes — analogous to counties in other states — were declared federal disaster areas. That comes after floods in March resulted in a federal disaster declaration for 36 of the state’s 64 parishes. Most of the overlap from the two events was in a southeastern portion of the state. Nearly the entire state has experienced some major flooding, FEMA maps show.

More than 106,000 Louisianians have registered for FEMA assistance, and more than $55 million in disaster relief funding has been approved to date for the August floods. Additionally, more than 25,000 flood insurance policyholders have submitted claims related to the event.

There’s still a significant store of funds to tap for recovery efforts. FEMA as of Friday said it still had $3.4 billion in its Disaster Relief Fund for fiscal 2016. The agency had a carryover balance of $5.3 billion in the fund from fiscal 2015. In addition, Congress appropriated nearly $7.4 billion for fiscal 2016 to the fund. That meant FEMA began fiscal 2016 with roughly $12 billion in the fund.

Ralph Abraham, R-La., whose 5th District was heavily affected, said he’s willing to fight for more money if there’s a need. But damage assessments aren’t finished, making it difficult to estimate whether additional funds will be in order.

“I am going to look to the local and state leaders as well as federal budget officials for guidance on flood recovery funds. If they tell me we need more money, I’m prepared to fight for it to get our people what they need,” Abraham said in a statement Friday.

“People in nearly every parish I represent have experienced flooding, and for some this is their second flood this year,” he added.

[Flint Aid Deal Slows Down Energy Bill]

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the Obama administration's response to devastating flooding in Louisiana "much more effective and much more impactful" than the Bush administration's immediate response to Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago. He said "the most significant difference" was that Louisiana Republicans and Democrats are praising the federal reaction this time.

Should additional disaster relief funds be needed, lawmakers could increase spending without breaking spending caps in the 2015 budget agreement. That’s because FEMA disaster relief spending enjoys special treatment under budget law.

Congress still has room to appropriate more funding to address disasters in fiscal 2016, according to the latest Office of Management and Budget report, released Friday. The limit on such disaster funding for fiscal 2016 is $14.1 billion under caps that were set by the 2011 budget law, meaning nearly $7 billion more could be appropriated.

If more were needed, it could be sought as emergency funding outside the Stafford Act (PL 100-707), which governs how the U.S. responds to disasters. OMB also estimated Congress would be able to appropriate up to $8.6 billion for disaster relief in fiscal 2017. The number is lower because of the high carryover balance that boosted fiscal 2016 funds.

Louisiana lawmakers indicated damage will be significant in an Aug. 14 letter expressing support for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ request for a federal major disaster declaration, which became effective that day. Storms began Aug. 11, according to the disaster declaration.

The letter, signed by Republican Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy and Reps. Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany Jr., John Fleming, Cedric L. Richmond, Garret Graves and Abraham noted that in some areas flood waters exceeded the 500-year estimate.

[A Decade After Katrina, Two New Orleans Lawmakers Look Back]

White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Friedman said on Thursday “FEMA has been on the ground in the region since before the flooding began and continues to mobilize across the state to respond to emergency needs and to assist with recovery, including getting people into temporary housing.” Kurt Pickering, FEMA spokesman, said Monday the agency has done most of the damage assessment in cooperation with state and local officials, though more assessments are underway.

But disaster aid isn’t the only funding stream that will be scrutinized as Louisiana continues cleanup. Flood insurance will play a major role and could become a hot topic with lawmakers in Washington as homeowners look for help. The latest authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program was tacked on to the 2012 surface transportation bill and expires September 30, 2017.

The state has already tried to smooth potential issues with flood insurance by putting emergency measures in place Friday to give policyholders more time to comply with their policy provisions. And on Monday, FEMA announced it would extend the grace period to 120 days for homeowners to renew certain flood insurance policies who are in the 20 parishes declared disaster areas following this month’s floods.

It’s possible Louisiana’s water woes could place a spotlight on efforts to overhaul the flood program, which has been on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List” since 2006. The program currently owes $23 billion to the U.S. Treasury, according to a June report. The GAO stated in a 2015 report that current losses generated by the program as well as the potential for future losses “have created substantial financial exposure for the federal government.”

[Landrieu: Flood Insurance Decided Florida's Special Election]

But many people affected aren’t covered by the flood insurance program because they did not apply for coverage. Only homes in designated high-risk areas must have flood insurance to qualify for federally-regulated mortgages.

Former Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., welcomed FEMA's assessment that there is enough funding in the disaster relief account. But she expressed concern about residents who don’t have flood insurance whose homes were devastated. More moisture is forecast to barrel through the state this week.

“We do have to hope that there’s not another major catastrophe that hits and that we can be effective and efficient in the way we spend the money,” Landrieu said.

John T. Bennett and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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Exit Interview: Rep. Randy Neugebauer

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Despite Spending Feud, NIH Makes Do in Fight Against Zika

Development of a vaccine to combat the Zika virus is on track for at least the next three or four months, despite the bitter congressional standoff over funding a response.

But the scientist in charge of the effort said Wednesday the money is likely to dry up in December. Funding for vaccine research at the National Institutes of Health was part of a much broader $1.9 billion request from the Obama administration that's been the subject of much wrangling this year on Capitol Hill.

"We asked for $277 million, and if you do the math and you look at all the money that was reshuffled in different places, when you pay it back, we still need $196 million to go through 2017 and into 2018," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview.

Where Does the NIH Stand With Zika Funding?

Fauci's team has relied on reprogrammed dollars shuffled between government accounts, including last week's reallocation of some $34 million within the NIH by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Fauci said Burwell wanted to avoid the transfers because they will eat into research of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

"We have to spend that money by the end of September," Fauci said. "We are going to be funding things that we're going to be doing starting in January and February. So, when you get to October, November, December, we're not going to be spending any additional money because we already put it into the contracts and the things to start."

[HHS to Transfer Funds to Help Fight Zika Virus]

He predicted the possibility of a funding drop-off unless Congress agrees on stopgap measures to keep federal agencies running.

"If we get a continuing resolution, we can still do what we're doing until like maybe December, and then, all of a sudden, we start to get into real trouble," Fauci said. "So, when we get to calendar year 2017, and we essentially run out of the money that we had forward funded into the areas to keep the vaccine going, we're going to be back in trouble again."

A stopgap appropriations measure that runs past Election Day would give Burwell some new spending to move around on October 1.

"The thought of that gives me a chill. It does," Fauci said when asked about further shifts. "I can tell you that would have so many negative effects — not only negative effects on the actual conduct of research in cancer and heart disease and diabetes. It would be very demoralizing to the biomedical research community to see that."

Fauci told Roll Call that a large-scale Zika outbreak such as those seen in Brazil and Puerto Rico is "extremely unlikely" in the continental United States, though not impossible. He warned against complacency, given that there's an expectation of additional localized outbreaks, particularly along the Gulf Coast.

[Republicans Shocked White House Won't Bite on Zika Funding]

Fauci said he understood public confusion about the severity of the threat. Zika presents "relatively mild" symptoms, except in pregnant women, whose babies are vulnerable to microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which the newborn can have an abnormally small head.

"That dichotomy of a mild illness on the one hand with potentially devastating consequences on another creates a bit of confusion about how serious is that and what should we be doing about it," Fauci said. "When we start seeing the devastation of even a handful or so of babies born with microcephaly or who have congenital abnormalities, that is going to have as profound an influence on 'Did we do the right thing?' as a less severe infection that has broad dissemination, like influenza."

Fauci seemed aware it could take only a small number of cases to generate even greater media and public attention for Zika, in contrast with a condition like the flu.

"People don't get excited about influenza except when there's the threat of a pandemic," he said.

The lengthy debate over funding to combat Zika devolved into a standoff where Senate Democrats blocked a GOP proposal that would deny family planning assistance from going to groups like Planned Parenthood. In places like Florida, the fight is spilling over onto the campaign trail.

[Zika Spending Stalemate in Congress Spills Over Into Campaigns]

But Fauci said being on the pivot point of the summer's biggest funding fight doesn't make him feel like a politician.

"There's a lot of back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans about how much should be funded, what the mechanism of the funding [should be]. I don't get involved in that and have never gotten involved in that because I have to maintain, as I do, my credibility as a scientist," he said. "The decision about how that's going to come about, you leave it up to things that are well beyond any control I can have. I can only give the scientific information as I know it."

Contact Lesniewski at NielsLesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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