The Trump Administration wants to include $337m in its next coronavirus relief bill to pay for a renovation of the White Houses’ West Wing.
The administration says the work would “increase the White House campus’s ability to detect, mitigate and alleviate external security and pandemic threats.”
The nearly $400m sum, included in the draft aid legislation from Senate Republicans, would cover a new security screening facility for the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex.
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Officials said other necessary work includes renovations to electrical and information technology infrastructure and unspecified security improvements.
The proposal has received scrutiny from officials and residents on social media, with many criticising the administration’s move to spend such a large sum on renovations during a time of national crises using of coronavirus relief legislature.
“The Trump administration wants to gut unemployment benefits by $400 a week. Meanwhile, they’ve asked for $377m to remodel the West Wing, and $2bn to build a new FBI building a block away from Trump’s hotel. Unconscionable,” Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the proposal in a press conference on Friday.
Ms McEnany said many features “pertain to safety protocols, filtration systems, enhanced communications ability and needs that we saw that were highlighted during the pandemic.”
She reassured reporters that the provisions would not “stand in the way” of unemployment provisions.
“But make no mistake, you know, a $377m proposal will not stand in the way of ensuring that the American people get their checks. That is the priority — ensuring that Americans do not get evicted. That is our number one, number two goals.”
The renovation of the wing has been long delayed by previous administrations, most recently in 2013 by president Obama, and has not had a full modernization since 1933, according to the General Services Administration. The timetable for construction is yet to be determined.
Lawmakers, including Republicans, have also raised issues over the administration’s request for more than $1bn in the bill for a new FBI headquarters in Washington.
“When it comes to the FBI building, this has been a long-discussed issue. I would note that the three previous Covid bills that have been passed had plenty of other things in them that were not related to Covid,” Ms McEnany said.
If the money for the West Wing is approved by congress the project could still hinge on the November election and if Mr Trump remains in office next year to go ahead with the work as planned.
The announcement comes less than a week after Melania Trump faced backlash for pressing forward with her own project to remodel the White House rose garden in a new development.
However, these renovations are set to be supported by the National Park Service and funded by private donations, The New York Times reported.
Ms Trump received similar backlash for pushing forward with the renovation despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, record levels of unemployment, and civil unrest.
She defended the decision by saying that the restoration will be beneficial in exemplifying the country’s “dedication to American ideals”.
“Preserving the history and beauty of the White House and its grounds is a testament to our nation’s commitment to the care of this landscape and our dedication to American ideals, safeguarding them for our children and their children for generations to come,” she said.
All three costly projects come amidst record levels of unemployment across the US, with approximately 32 million people receiving unemployment assistance, according to the Labour department.
Claims have continued to rise as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the country, with over four and a half million confirmed cases and 154,000 deaths as of Monday, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.