Republicans block efforts to advance $10 billion COVID relief deal in Senate

Washington— Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a measure that would provide an additional $10 billion in COVID-19 relief, refusing to back the bipartisan deal unless Democratic leaders allow a vote on an immigration-related amendment .

The equally split Senate vote to remove a procedural hurdle failed 47-52, leaving Democrats well short of the 60 votes they needed for the deal to move forward. The failed vote to start debate on the $10 billion COVID relief package came a day after Republicans and Democrats announced they had reached an agreement on additional 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 Biden administration’s request to Congress to provide emergency more money to help the United States continue its fight against COVID -19.

The 10 billion dollars is much less than 22.5 billion dollars originally wanted 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 fight COVID-19.

Still, the White House has urged Congress to “act quickly” on the package to fund immediate pandemic needs. Following Tuesday’s failed vote, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the Senate Republicans’ blockade “disappointing” and warned there would be “consequences” if Congress doesn’t did not approve of the additional funding.

“The program that reimbursed doctors, pharmacists and other providers for vaccinating uninsured people had to end today due to a lack of funds. The US supply of monoclonal antibodies effective in preventing people to go to the hospital will run out as soon as the end of May. Our capacity to manufacture tests will start to decrease at the end of June,” she said, adding that the Senate vote is “a step backwards for our ability to respond to this virus.

The $10 billion COVID relief bill has become embroiled in a dispute between Republicans and Democratic leaders over immigration and border policy, which the GOP is elevating as a key problem ahead of the midterm elections in November.

GOP senators wanted a vote on an amendment that would block Mr. Biden from ending a Trump-era border restriction known as the Title 42 which authorized US border officials to quickly deport migrants in order to stop the spread of a contagious disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that they end pandemic era rule due to improving public health conditions, prompting backlash from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who warned that ending Title 42 would lead to border chaos.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s vote that there “should be an amendment to Title 42 in order to move the” COVID relief bill forward.

“There are several other amendments that we are going to want to put forward and so we will have to reach some sort of agreement to deal with these amendments in order to move forward with the bill,” he said.

Schumer, however, lambasted Republicans for blocking the funding measure from moving forward, calling the failed vote “devastating” for Americans.

“Vaccines, therapies and tests were negotiated in good faith and they should not be held hostage to unrelated foreign issues,” he said. “It’s too important to the health of the American people, but it seems precisely what some Republicans want to do.”

Romney, who helped broker the COVID funding deal, voted against moving the measure forward, telling reporters that there are “legitimate amendments to consider” and that senators “need to know what will be the amendment process”.

While the White House has been pushing Congress to quickly approve the new aid, doing so this week looks difficult. The Senate is aiming to confirm Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court before members depart for a two-week suspension due to begin Friday, and her confirmation vote could come as early as Thursday.

“Given the timeline and the fact that we have the Supreme Court nominee, hopefully it will be difficult to do both at the same time, but we’ll see,” Romney said.

Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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