A $10 billion COVID-19 funding bill worked out by Senate leadership has faced a roadblock in the Senate due to GOP objections over one of its immigration provisions.
Senate Republicans and Democrats first struck a deal on April 4 for $10 billion in additional funding for the United States’ COVID-19 response, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced.
Despite seeming to have had enough support to pass, the compromise bill was blocked by Senate Republicans in a 47-52 vote on April 5, and GOP lawmakers are demanding votes on amendments to the bill before they will give it their support.
One of the most prominent of these amendments is a proposal to reverse President Joe Biden’s Title 42 immigration decision.
Following the start of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, President Donald Trump established new pandemic restrictions that allowed border patrol agents to turn illegal immigrants away at the border and force them to return to Mexico.
In an April 1 statement, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced the end of Trump’s Title 42 restrictions.
“In consultation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), this termination will be implemented on May 23, 2022, to enable DHS time to implement appropriate COVID-19 mitigation protocols, such as scaling up a program to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to migrants and prepare for resumption of regular migration under Title 8,” CDC said in the statement.
“After considering current public health conditions and an increased availability of tools to fight COVID-19 (such as highly effective vaccines and therapeutics), the CDC Director has determined that an Order suspending the right to introduce migrants into the United States is no longer necessary,” the statement continued.
In line with the CDC recommendation, the Biden administration announced that the Title 42 restrictions would end on May 23, 2022.
In his own statement on the controversy over Title 42, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas portrayed the reversal of Title 42 as a public health policy, and emphasized that DHS would continue to apprehend and stop illegal aliens from entering the country.
“Once the Title 42 Order is no longer in place, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border pursuant to Title 8, which is the standard procedure we use to place individuals in removal proceedings,” Mayorkas said.
“Nonetheless, we know that smugglers will spread misinformation to take advantage of vulnerable migrants. Let me be clear: those unable to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed,” he added.
Republicans frustrated by the decision are now latching onto the COVID funding bill as a means to force a return to the Trump-era policy.
“I think there’ll have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “There’s 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.”
Leader Schumer shot back with a criticism of the GOP effort.
“Vaccines, therapeutics and testing were negotiated in good faith,” Schumer said, “and they should not be held hostage to extraneous unrelated issues. This is too important for the health of the American people.”
“I want there to be no mistake about what just happened here on the Senate floor,” Schumer said after Republicans filibustered the bill. “Republicans blocked a bipartisan bill that would provide vaccines, testing and therapeutics for the American people.”
The funding bill would provide for therapeutics and other COVID-19 needs by repurposing unspent COVID funds primarily from the Democrats’ American Rescue Plan.
The $10 billion will be allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services, of which $9.2 billion will go to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
At least $5 billion of the $9.2 billion funding has been earmarked to research, develop, manufacture, purchase, and administer COVID-19 therapeutics, and at least $750 million is being set aside for research and clinical trials into emerging variants of the virus and to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity if needed.
For example, the new bill will withdraw $500 million from a fund to support colleges and universities during the pandemic, $2.3 billion that was made available to the Department of Transportation, as well as nearly $1 billion from a fund for tribal governments.
The agreed funding is less than half the $22.5 billion that Biden proposed and does not include money to support the administration’s efforts to combat the virus around the world.
Schumer, who has been leading negotiations on the legislation for Democrats, said he was disappointed that the agreement does not include the $5 billion for global health funding.
“This $10 billion COVID package will give the federal government—and our citizens—the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe,” Schumer said.
“But while this emergency injection of additional funding is absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep us safe from the COVID-19 virus over the long term.”
As Republicans continue to oppose the package without the addition of several amendments, it is unclear when or if the package will make it through the evenly divided Senate.
Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.