Immigration issue threatens to stall $10 billion coronavirus package

A bipartisan backlash to the Biden administration’s decision to ease pandemic restrictions at the U.S. border has cast doubt on the swift passage of a $10 billion coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill.

Democrats are pushing to approve the new funding by the end of the week, when the House and Senate are expected to begin a two-week recess. But for the bill to clear the Senate that quickly, all 100 senators would have to agree to proceed, and several Republicans said Tuesday they would seek a vote on border restrictions as a condition.

“We will have to have a discussion about a reasonable amendment process,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday, specifically mentioning the boundary provision as a prerequisite.

Such an amendment could very well pass with votes from lawmakers on both sides, which could upset a carefully negotiated compromise to continue funding the country’s national response to the pandemic, including replenishing stocks of vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

Tuesday’s ultimatum represents another boost to the coronavirus aid negotiations that have been underway for months.

On Monday, Senate negotiators announced a $10 billion bipartisan deal that reallocates previously earmarked covid relief funds. At least half of the new dollars would be used to develop and buy therapeutics, with about $750 million for research and clinical trials to fight future variants and build vaccine manufacturing capacity.

But the deal was met with political buzz on Tuesday, with Republicans and a handful of Democrats complaining about the Biden administration’s mixed messages – scrapping a pandemic mitigation measure at the border while simultaneously demanding billions dollars to combat the continued spread of the virus.

Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), the minority whip, said there was a “pretty strong” desire within GOP ranks to overturn the border decision, which would lift an order of public health service known as Title 42 which for the past two years has overridden asylum laws and allowed the federal government to summarily deport migrants due to the covid pandemic.

“Everyone sees this as a huge mistake, including a lot of Democrats,” Thune said.

Homeland Security officials have warned that the lifting of the order, which is expected to take place in late May, could severely exacerbate a surge of migrants to the southern border, where they could seek asylum in the United States. Lawmakers on both sides have publicly expressed concern that federal agencies are simply unprepared for the likely influx.

“What I’m waiting for is a plan,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “If they have a plan, I would consider [lifting Title 42]. Otherwise, I have no problem keeping it in place.

The clash has put Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) in a bind as he prepares to tick off a long list of legislative tasks this week, including passing the agenda aid package, confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a Supreme Court justice and possibly passing new sanctions against Russia. Jackson’s nomination is expected to keep the Senate floor busy until at least Thursday, complicating any effort to complete the $10 billion coronavirus deal before the end of the week.

“The bottom line is that this is a bipartisan deal that does a significant good for the American people,” Schumer said Tuesday. “He shouldn’t be held hostage for a foreign issue.”

White House officials have also stressed that the Title 42 debate should be separate from the covid-19 funding package.

“Title 42 is a public health authority. … This has always been a decision made by CDC scientists and public health experts,” White House covid coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters during a Tuesday briefing. “It should remain independent of the funding we talked about today to support our covid response here at the national level and our global response.”

Schumer, however, may not have an easy way around the blockade.

Thune said it would be difficult to foresee a scenario in which Senate Republicans agree to go ahead with the bill without understanding that there will be votes on the amendments: “If we’re going to have this conversation [about covid-19 aid] then we should have a process that allows us to get amendment votes, mostly on Title 42,” he told reporters.

Holding a vote on keeping Title 42 in place promises to be politically treacherous for Democrats. While many liberals are eager to roll back the pandemic policy, first instituted under President Donald Trump, and return to the regular asylum system, senators who represent border states and some elsewhere who face a re-election this year are much more wary.

Among the Democrats who have expressed concerns about the lifting of Title 42 are the Senses. of Arizona Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, as well as the senses. Raphael G. Warnock of Georgia and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

“Basically Title 42 should be in place until we have border security, period,” said Manchin, who also added that he was “not going to keep covid aid” on the question.

Thune said Republicans believe an amendment to the covid relief bill could pass with a 51-vote margin, as the Senate congressman will most likely deem it relevant to the undercurrent bill. underlying. (Non-German amendments are usually considered with a margin of 60 votes and are therefore less likely to pass.)

If the amendment passes and the underlying covid bill passes, he could be dead when he arrives at the Democratic House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would come under heavy pressure from from the left wing of his caucus for not bringing it. for a vote.

The Democrats who have been pushing Biden for months to lift Title 42 have reacted strongly to the possibility that the border issue could be mixed in with the covid relief money.

“We need a clean covid relief program, and if we’re going to go into amendments, then maybe I have a few,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), a chief of the pushing frame for the lifting of the title 42.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján (DN.M.) would not say if he could vote for a coronavirus funding bill that had an amendment preserving Title 42 attached. But he said he was until the border policy is lifted.

“There are many policies put in place by President Trump that have been abused, that have treated people inhumanely,” he said. “That’s just not who we are as the United States, and we should approach people fleeing the most dangerous parts of the world in a humane way.”

The $10 billion deal announced this week is a far cry from the $22.5 billion the White House had originally sought. The funding was originally meant to be included in a sweeping government-wide appropriations bill that passed on a bipartisan basis last month, but was scrapped after some House Democrats balked at offsetting the spending that threatened to roll back some untied federal funding from some states.

In recent weeks, federal officials have stepped up their calls for more dollars, sending letters to Capitol Hill and dispatching high-profile aides to lobby for the funds. The Biden administration had already begun ending a program to reimburse health care providers for coronavirus testing, treatment and vaccinations for uninsured Americans. The federal government has also cut state allocations for critical covid-19 treatment.

That the bipartisan deal also cut funding to help vaccinate the rest of the world is also raising concerns among Democrats. The White House had requested about $5 billion in international aid, but lawmakers could not agree on a way to pay it.

The move sparked warnings from health experts who argued the dollars were needed to help prevent new variants from emerging overseas and spreading in the United States. On the Hill, some House Democrats threatened to withhold support for a package that lacks global funding, and Schumer said he would pursue a separate package for the international response “later this spring.”

Dan Diamond contributed to this report.


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