President Donald Trump's remarks Tuesday night criticizing the fiscal 2021 omnibus spending package took aim at several projects prioritized by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby.
The Alabama Republican has engaged in a yearslong effort to significantly expand the FBI's footprint at the Redstone Arsenal campus in Huntsville, especially as the debate has dragged on about construction plans for the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., or suburban Maryland.
The president criticized the omnibus agreement's inclusion of $566 million for FBI construction, which the explanatory statement accompanying the legislation says "provides funding above the requested level for the FBI to address its highest priorities outside of the immediate national capital area, in addition to resources dedicated to secure work environment projects."
Shelby's office highlighted the FBI construction funding in an Alabama-specific news release about the appropriations package, and the Huntsville complex is surely one of those top priority sites.
"The agreement strongly supports the FBI's efforts to create a campus for collocating FBI explosives and counter-IED programs and activities," the statement says. That facility is part of the Huntsville campus.
The bill expressly avoids funding for FBI headquarters construction, which Trump has been seeking to keep at the current location on Pennsylvania Avenue. He sought $1.75 billion for that purpose over the summer, which Senate Republicans included in their version of a coronavirus relief bill despite several expressing reservations.
The official explanation for Trump's push is the current J. Edgar Hoover Building's proximity to the Justice Department. But there have been persistent concerns that the president's also interested in making sure that site is not sold off to a private developer who could build a facility competing with the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Building across the street.
In an emailed statement, Shelby spokeswoman Blair Taylor defended the FBI construction funds.
"This funding was included to meet high priority needs identified by the FBI for critical construction projects," Taylor wrote. "Chairman Shelby firmly believes that providing these resources is not a waste. In fact, leveraging the assets at Redstone Arsenal makes sense not just from a strategic perspective, but also from a financial one."
The FBI construction money is not the only line item touted by Shelby that was targeted by the president in his Tuesday evening video remarks. Others include:
- $7 million for reef fish management, which is tied to red snapper population management in Gulf Coast states.
- $25 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service to combat Asian carp in sub-basins of the Mississippi River.
- $2.5 million to assess the amberjack fish population in the Gulf of Mexico.
- $3 million toward Agricultural Research Service poultry production technology, which includes funding for Auburn University.
- $2 million for downed tree research, which Shelby's office said also supports research at Auburn.
Shelby, who is up for reelection in 2022 but hasn't said if he'll run, was among those who seemed mildly supportive of Trump's own FBI request in July. He told reporters that the time that the existing facility upgrades were needed because "it's not safe."
It wasn't immediately clear why Trump decided to target Shelby priorities in the omnibus. The senior Alabama senator is a longtime ally of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself a longtime Alabama GOP senator who ran afoul of Trump because he recused himself from the investigation into potential collusion with Russia.
Shelby endorsed Sessions in his losing primary bid against Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who unseated Democratic Sen. Doug Jones last month. Trump lobbied hard against Sessions.
In addition, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame said last month on CNN and Twitter that Shelby was among those Republicans senators who have expressed "disdain" for Trump in private, citing numerous sources on and off Capitol Hill and at the White House. Shelby didn't respond to the report, according to local news outlets.
White House officials wouldn't comment for the record about Trump's attacks on Shelby projects.
Trump's attack on the omnibus also touched priorities of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, including the $25 million for, as McConnell put it, the "War on Asian Carp." He said in a statement that the invasive species gets into waterways like Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.
And Trump went after nearly $135 million in the spending bill for economic development, education and counterdrug efforts in Burma, officially called Myanmar. Democracy and human rights in Myanmar is a longtime McConnell project.
After the Electoral College on Dec. 14 certified President-elect Joe Biden's victory, which Trump is disputing, McConnell acknowledged the results and congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
McConnell hasn't responded to requests for comment about Trump's video remarks.
Lindsey McPherson and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.