Senate Republicans block effort to advance $10 billion COVID relief deal
Washington — Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday blocked a measure that would provide an additional $10 billion in COVID-19 relief from moving forward, declining to throw their support behind the bipartisan deal unless Democratic leaders allowed a vote on an immigration-related amendment.
The vote in the evenly divided Senate to clear a procedural hurdle failed 47-52, leaving Democrats well shy of the 60 votes they needed in order for the deal to move forward. The failed vote to begin debate on the $10 billion COVID relief package came one day after Republicans and Democrats announced they had reached an agreement on the supplemental funding for therapeutics, research and vaccines.
The deal was the result of negotiations led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, and came in response to a request by the Biden administration for Congress to urgently provide more money to help the U.S. continue its fight against COVID-19.
The $10 billion is far less than $22.5 billion initially sought by the White House to continue its vaccination and testing efforts and prepare for future variants, and the agreement omitted $5 billion for global efforts to combat COVID-19.
Still, the White House urged Congress to "move promptly" on the package to fund immediate pandemic-related needs. Following the failed vote Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the blockade by Senate Republicans "disappointing" and warned there are "consequences" for Congress failing to approve the additional funding.
"The program that reimbursed doctors, pharmacists and other providers for vaccinating the uninsured had to end today due to a lack of funds. America's supply of monoclonal antibodies that are effective at keeping people out of the hospital will run out as soon as late May. Our test manufacturing capacity will begin ramping down at the end of June," she said, adding the Senate vote is "a step backward for our ability to respond to this virus."
The $10 billion COVID relief bill became ensnared in a dispute between Republicans and Democratic leaders over immigration and border policy, which the GOP is elevating as a key issue ahead of the November midterm elections.
GOP senators wanted a vote on an amendment that would prevent Mr. Biden from winding down a Trump-era border restriction known as Title 42 that authorized U.S. border officials to swiftly expel migrants in order to stop the spread of a contagious disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week it would end the pandemic-era rule because of improving public health conditions, sparking backlash from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who warned the end of Title 42 would lead to chaos at the border.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters ahead of the vote Tuesday there would "have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the" COVID relief bill.
"There are several other amendments that we're going to want to offer and so we'll need to enter into some kind of agreement to process these amendments in order to go forward with the bill," he said.
Schumer, though, lambasted Republicans from stopping the funding measure from moving forward, calling the failed vote "devastating" to Americans.
"Vaccines, therapeutics, and testing were negotiated in good faith and they should not be held hostage to extraneous unrelated issues," he said. "This is too important for the health of the American people, but that seems precisely what some Republicans want to do."
Romney, who helped broker the deal on the COVID funding, voted against advancing the measure, telling reporters there are "legitimate amendments to be considered" and senators "need to know what the amendment process is going to be."
While the White House has been pushing Congress to quickly approve the new aid, doing so this week appears difficult. The Senate is aiming to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court before members leave for a two-week recess set to begin Friday, and her confirmation vote could come as soon as Thursday.
"Given the calendar and the fact that we have the Supreme Court nominee hopefully proceeding along, why, it's going to be hard to do both at the same time, but we'll see," Romney said.
Jack Turman contributed to this report.