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

A push by Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill Healthcare bill 'not the last step' to repealing ObamaCare, Republican says Rand Paul: 'If you offer me a 90 percent repeal, I'd probably vote for it' 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 McConnellErnst polls supporters on Obamacare repeal plan Cornyn: Passing Senate healthcare bill by July 4 ‘optimistic’ Sasse has 'nothing to announce' on GOP ObamaCare repeal 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 CollinsSenate Republicans reluctant to rush vote on healthcare bill GOP senator defends funding Planned Parenthood GOP sen: 'We should not be voting' on healthcare this week MORE (R-Maine) and Jack ReedJack ReedDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity 3 tips for President Trump before he outsources his duties to Mattis McCain threatens to block Trump's deputy Defense nominee 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.