Obama gets involved in last-ditch push for Zika funding

Barack Obama, Phone, Call
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President Obama this week has personally lobbied leaders in Congress over funding for the fight against the Zika virus.

Obama has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well as top Senate Democrats over the “past few days,” White House homeland security adviser Amy Pope told reporters Thursday.

The White House is aggressively ramping up pressure on GOP leaders to approve Zika money before Congress departs for its seven-week summer recess.

The Senate has just six legislative days left in session before September. But McConnell has said he will only allow a vote on the GOP’s Zika funding package that the White House has threatened to veto.

“We tried passing Zika funding and will try again,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart wrote in an email. “That’s not a McConnell choice, that’s the rules.”

That $1.1 billion bill — which uses funding from ObamaCare and targets Planned Parenthood — passed the House along party lines last month but was blocked in the Senate.

Democrats are now pushing for McConnell to hold a vote on an earlier, compromise version of the $1.1 billion bill, which was the results of weeks of bipartisan negotiations.

McConnell’s office argues they cannot make changes to the House-passed bill without starting from scratch because it’s part of a conference report.

“We have made clear that we support the bipartisan efforts to get a bill to the president’s desk,” Pope said. “We believe the leader has the responsibility to do that, to get something that has bipartisan support and can be passed through both the Senate and the House.”

That compromise bill, which contains emergency funding that is not offset, would be all but doomed in the House, where conservatives have railed against new spending.

The White House stepped up its calls for that bill in a 40-minute press briefing Thursday with Democratic lawmakers, including the No. 3 Senate Democrat Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and public health leaders.

“We have one week, and Republican leaders have no plans to get a bill passed,” Schumer said. “Leader McConnell is the leader, he can’t just put up a bill that fails when we have an emergency.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, who has been frequently meeting with lawmakers to press for funding, specifically said the lack of funding is slowing efforts to improve diagnostic tests, launch new studies and invest in vaccine development.

“It’s frankly difficult to navigate with so many unknowns,” Frieden said.

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