Rand Paul demands vote on blocking welfare for refugees
© Francis Rivera

A push by Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulCurtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Glimmer of hope in bipartisan criminal justice reform effort Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies MORE (R-Ky.) for a vote on refugee benefits has thwarted the Senate's plan to pass a housing and transportation bill this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump’s isolation grows Ellison: Trump has 'level of sympathy' for neo-Nazis, white supremacists Trump touts endorsement of second-place finisher in Alabama primary MORE (R-Ky.) came to the Senate floor on Thursday and withdrew cloture motions on the spending bill for the Department of Transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The motions would have allowed the legislation to come up for a procedural vote.

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The move came after Paul, who is running for president, demanded a vote on an amendment that would ban new refugees from 34 countries or territories from getting assistance from welfare programs funded under the spending bill. 

With Sens. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsOPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight The fight to protect the Affordable Care Act isn’t over MORE (R-Maine) and Jack ReedJack ReedTop Armed Services Dem: Trump's North Korea 'ad lib' not helpful Mattis warns North Korea of 'destruction of its people' Closing old military bases will help our defense — and our communities MORE (D-R.I.), who are spearheading the legislation, opposed to Paul's amendment, Paul pledged that he would block leadership from trying to speed up procedural votes, as well as block any other amendment from getting queued up for floor time.

"The biggest issue of the day is how we protect ourselves from terrorism. My amendment goes to the heart of the matter. Are we sufficiently vetting those who might come here and attack us from the Middle East?" Paul said, adding that "until we address the issues of the day on a germane amendment, I object." 

Senators on both sides of the aisle had been optimistic that they would be able to get a time agreement on the transportation-housing bill to get the legislation passed before they leave for a week-long Thanksgiving recess.  

But Paul's demand quickly added an unforeseen complication to the otherwise uncontroversial spending bill. 

Asked if Paul's roadblock would force the housing-transportaiton legislation to be wrapped into a larger "omnibus" spending bill, Collins said "at this point, that's probably a good bet." 

"We were making very good progress, but given the little time that remains I cannot be very optimistic that we're going to be able to turn to the bill. We're going to keep working to clear amendments behind the scenes," she added. 

Lawmakers have until mid-December to pass legislation funding the government. 

Paul previously tried to bring up his amendment on Wednesday, but was blocked by Collins. 

Even if McConnell hadn't withdrawn the cloture motions, Paul's refusal to allow lawmakers to get a time agreement to speed up the votes would have either forced leadership to punt the spending bill until after Thanksgiving or drag his colleagues into a weekend session.  

Paul added in a separate statement that "my request is simple — an up or down vote on his Amendment to cut off welfare to new refugees. We should be pause the refugee program while we fix it and ensure national security is addressed. This vote is to send a message to President Obama to halt this program now."

- This story was updated at 3:33 p.m.