Shortly after Senate Democrats blocked a $1.1 billion Zika funding measure from advancing, a White House official urged lawmakers to send President Barack Obama “a fully funded Zika supplemental request.”
White House aides and Senate Democrats spent much of Tuesday accusing Republicans of “playing politics” with a virus that is spreading throughout the U.S. and its territories — especially Puerto Rico — and can cause major birth defects. GOP members returned the charge in kind.
The procedural vote continued a standoff over how much is needed to counter the virus and what those funds should be used for, and over provisions congressional Republicans inserted into the package limiting funding for birth control and allowing Confederate flag displays on certain days at Veterans Affairs facilities.
The White House continued to signal it is in no mood to compromise, making it difficult to see how lawmakers will strike an accord that satisfies enough of them and Obama.
Underscoring the bad blood, the White House official called the House-passed measure, which the Senate attempted to move toward a final vote, an “irresponsible, underfunded and purely partisan” effort.
That comment came via an email received minutes after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas blasted Democrats on the floor in front of a large picture of a child with a misshapen head due to Zika-caused birth defects.
“It should go without saying that now on the front lines of this major public health concern, we need to respond at the federal level,” Cornyn said. “That’s why it’s shocking and shameful to see so many Senate Democrats oppose this bipartisan effort to guard against the virus.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unable to predict when existing Zika funding would run out. But he did say the proposed new spending is “insufficient.”
“Republicans don’t take this particularly seriously,” Earnest said, adding that he is unsure what a pro-Confederate flag provision “has to do with Zika funding.” Later, he said, given the disease’s impact on pregnant women and unborn babies, Republican lawmakers seem to “have no shame.”
Earlier Tuesday, a source who closely follows budget matters said “there is no Plan B” after the House-passed measure.
Asked if there would be additional Zika floor votes in the Senate, Cornyn told reporters, “We’re done.” But Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski , the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday of reviving negotiations: “We are looking at how to keep hope and help alive.”
“Our backup plan already has been deployed,” Earnest said, referring to the administration’s initial Zika request. “Why should the president be in a position of twisting arms in Congress ?”
The Senate vote came around the time a Florida hospital reported its first case of a baby born with Zika-related birth defects. The child’s mother apparently contracted the virus in Haiti before traveling to Florida.