White House: GOP can't 'fall asleep at switch' on Zika

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The White House warned Friday that GOP leaders should not be "asleep at the switch" on the Zika virus, pressuring them to approve the administration's emergency funding request to fight the disease.

President Obama has requested nearly $2 billion for efforts to prevent, treat and diagnose the Zika virus, which has been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly and is expected to spread in the U.S. this spring. GOP leaders have called the extra funding unnecessary while the White House has leftover money from fighting Ebola.

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“It’s important for Congress not to be asleep at the switch when we have a significant emerging threat,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday, describing the funding request as the government's “most important” step in preventing Zika.

“We haven’t seen Congress do anything with that proposal,” Earnest said. “It is necessary for Congress to take action to protect the American people.”

Democrats in Congress are also pressing harder on Republican leaders this week.

Twenty-four Democratic senators sent a letter to Senate appropriators on Friday urging Congress to support the request, warning that Congress must remain "vigilant" on Ebola.

Also on Friday, the White House announced a daylong summit on the Zika virus to take place next month. The meeting, requested by the National Governor's Association, is intended to advise state health officials about the best steps to prepare for an outbreak.

The Obama administration has touted its quick response to the spread of the Zika virus, a disease that remains unknown even among top health experts.

“The administration has treated this as a top priority and we certainly recognize that when confronted with risks like this, early action is important,” Earnest said.

The mosquito carrying the Zika virus is expected to land in the U.S. in May or June.

So far, about 60 countries have seen cases of the virus, nearly double the number with cases at the start of 2016, according to new data from the World Health Organization this week.