GOP blocks Senate COVID bill, demands votes on immigration

Apr 4, 2022, 10:14 PM | Updated: Apr 5, 2022, 9:40 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt Tuesday to begin Senate debate on a $10 billion COVID-19 compromise, pressing to entangle the bipartisan package with an election-year showdown over immigration restrictions that poses a politically uncomfortable fight for Democrats.

A day after Democratic and GOP bargainers reached agreement on providing the money for treatments, vaccines and testing, a Democratic move to push the measure past a procedural hurdle failed 52-47. All 50 Republicans opposed the move, leaving Democrats 13 votes short of the 60 they needed to prevail.

Hours earlier, Republicans said they’d withhold crucial support for the measure unless Democrats agreed to votes on an amendment preventing President Joe Biden from lifting Trump-era curbs on migrants entering the U.S. With Biden polling poorly on his handling of immigration and Democrats divided on the issue, Republicans see a focus on migrants as a fertile line of attack.

“I think there will have to be” an amendment preserving the immigration restrictions “in order to move the bill” bolstering federal pandemic efforts, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.

At least 10 GOP votes will be needed in the 50-50 Senate for the measure to reach the 60 votes it must have for approval. Republicans could withhold that support until Democrats permit a vote on an immigration amendment.

Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., want Congress to approve the pandemic bill before lawmakers leave in days for a two-week recess. Tuesday’s vote suggested that could be hard.

“This is a potentially devastating vote for every single American who was worried about the possibility of a new variant rearing its nasty head within a few months,” Schumer said after the vote.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Today’s Senate vote is a step backward for our ability to respond to this virus.”

The new omicron variant, BA.2, is expected to spark a fresh increase in U.S. COVID-19 cases. Around 980,000 Americans and over 6 million people worldwide have died from the disease.

The $10 billion pandemic package is far less than the $22.5 billion Biden initially sought. It also lacks $5 billion Biden wanted to battle the pandemic overseas after the two sides couldn’t agree on budget savings to pay for it, as Republicans demanded.

At least half the bill would finance research and production of therapeutics to treat COVID-19. Money would also be used to buy vaccines and tests and to research new variants.

The measure is paid for by pulling back unspent pandemic funds provided earlier for protecting aviation manufacturing jobs, closed entertainment venues and other programs.

Administration officials have said the government has run out of money to finance COVID-19 testing and treatments for people without insurance, and is running low on money for boosters, free monoclonal antibody treatments and care for people with immune system weaknesses.

At the 2020 height of the pandemic, President Donald Trump imposed immigration curbs letting authorities immediately expel asylum seekers and migrants for public health reasons. The ban is set to expire May 23, triggering what by all accounts will be a massive increase in people trying to cross the Mexican border into the U.S.

That confronts Democrats with messy choices ahead of fall elections when they’re expected to struggle to retain their hair-breadth House and Senate majorities.

Many of the party’s lawmakers and their liberal supporters want the U.S. to open its doors to more immigrants. But moderates and some Democrats confronting tight November reelections worry about lifting the restrictions and alienating centrist voters.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who faces a competitive reelection this fall, declined to say whether she would support retaining the Trump-era ban but said more needs to be done.

“I need a plan, we need a plan,” she said in a brief interview. “There’s going to be a surge at the border. There should be a plan and I’ve been calling for it all along.”

Shortly before Tuesday’s vote, Schumer showed no taste for exposing his party to a divisive immigration vote.

“This is a bipartisan agreement that does a whole lot of important good for the American people. Vaccines, testing, therapeutics,” he said. “It should not be held hostage for an extraneous issue.”

Jeff Zients, head of White House COVID-19 task force, expressed the same view.

“This should not be included on any funding bill,” he said of immigration. “The decision should be made by the CDC. That’s where it has been, and that’s where it belongs.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which initiated the move two years ago, said earlier this month that it would lift the ban next month. The restrictions, known as Title 42, have been harder to justify as pandemic restrictions have eased.

Trump administration officials cast the curb as a way to keep COVID-19 from spreading further in the U.S. Democrats considered that an excuse for Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric was a hallmark of his presidency, to keep migrants from entering the country.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said she supported terminating Trump’s curb and questioned GOP motives for seeking to reinstate it.

“I find it very ironic for those who haven’t wanted to have a vaccination mandate, for those who did not want to have masks in the classroom, for them to suddenly be very interested in protecting the public,” she said.

But Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would support a Senate COVID-19 aid bill if it included the GOP effort to retain the Trump immigration restrictions.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he said in a brief interview.

___

AP congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and reporters Chris Megerian and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A woman wheels a cart with her purchases out of a Walmart, on Nov. 18, 2020, in Derry, N.H. ...
Associated Press

US retail sales were flat in July as inflation takes a toll

WASHINGTON (AP) — The pace of sales at U.S. retailers was unchanged last month as persistently high inflation and rising interest rates forced many households to spend more cautiously. Retail purchases were flat in July after having risen 0.8% in June, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. America’s consumers, whose spending accounts for nearly 70% of […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Kids-for-cash judges ordered to pay more than $200M

Two Pennsylvania judges who orchestrated a scheme to send children to for-profit jails in exchange for kickbacks were ordered to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of children who fell victim to their crimes. U.S. District Judge Judge Christopher Conner awarded $106 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages to nearly […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Illegal minors search for gold in the Ireng River on the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous rese...
Associated Press

Little talk of rainforest protection in the Brazilian Amazon

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In the Brazilian Amazon these days, it’s nearly impossible to run for office talking up the environment. More common is a scene like this: A candidate for Congress parades a helicopter — the symbol of illegal gold mining — painted with the Brazilian flag, through the streets of the Amazon […]
6 hours ago
The NASA Artemis rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building movin...
Associated Press

NASA’s moon rocket moved to launch pad for 1st test flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new moon rocket arrived at the launch pad Wednesday ahead of its debut flight in less than two weeks. The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket emerged from its mammoth hangar late Tuesday night, drawing crowds of Kennedy Space Center workers. It took nearly 10 hours for the rocket to make the […]
6 hours ago
FILE - This combination of photos shows logos for social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. Soci...
Associated Press

U.S. midterms bring few changes from social media companies

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Social media companies are offering few specifics as they share their plans for safeguarding the U.S. midterm elections. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are generally staying the course from the 2020 voting season, which was marred by conspiracies and culminated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Video app […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Elon Musk attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala on May 2, ...
Associated Press

Musk tweet joking about buying Manchester United causes stir

LONDON (AP) — Elon Musk caused a stir by tweeting that he was buying the English soccer team Manchester United — whose current owners are opposed by many fans — then saying several hours later that it was a joke. It comes as the billionaire Tesla CEO faces a legal battle in the U.S. after […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
GOP blocks Senate COVID bill, demands votes on immigration