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Sen. Rand Paul Blocks Aid for Disabled, Elderly Refugees

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Rand Paul this week singlehandedly blocked an extension of aid to 5,600 disabled or elderly refugees.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking Monday on the Senate floor when he thought the measure would pass with unanimous consent, noted that President George W. Bush had previously extended the benefits. He also thanked several Republicans for working to help clear the way for the bill, including Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Orrin Hatch (Utah).

"Some of the disabled refugees this bill helps are people who have aided American troops overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan and risked their lives for America's cause," Schumer said. "Others are victims of torture or human trafficking, whose injuries were so severe that they are now unable to sustain themselves without these benefits. ... If we do not act soon, we will cause irreparable harm to these most vulnerable of individuals."

With Paul holding up the bill, it's not clear when or if the Senate might act.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a backer of the refugee benefits, said Paul's hold shows a larger dysfunction of the institution.

"I would love to see a time when a 100-Member Senate would actually vote on things" and not allow "every one Senator" to force "the whole world ... to revolve around their issues," Leahy said.

Paul has questioned how two Iraqis charged with various terror offenses were allowed into the United States under the refugee program and has sought hearings and an investigation into the program as a result. Paul has said he wants assurances that refugees are properly vetted and questioned how refugees can come from Iraq, given that the country is a U.S. ally.

The refugee bill isn't the only one getting blocked single-handedly by Paul; he is also blocking a bill that would boost safety rules for pipelines that likewise has bipartisan support.

Paul said that bill deserves a full debate and he is concerned that it might not solve problems like the one that led to an explosion in San Bruno, Calif.

"It is a disservice to the families of the victims of the San Bruno pipeline incident to not carefully read this legislation before demanding it be passed without sufficient debate or vote," he said in a statement. "I have serious concerns about whether older pipelines, such as the one at San Bruno, will be grandfathered in and exempt from the regulations presented in this bill. I am meeting tomorrow with experts on this incident from the NTSB and will ask for specific answers on this issue."

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