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U.S. Senate Republicans Border Push, Democratic Worries Complicate Path For COVID Aid

WASHINGTON, April 5 (Reuters) – The prospects of a $10 billion U.S. COVID-19 relief package were complicated on Tuesday by Senate Republicans’ demand to link the bill to a vote on border restrictions and concerns by some House Democrats that the proposal did not provide international aid.

The competing demands come as top Democrats were aiming to pass the bill, which is less than half the $22 billion President Joe Biden had sought, before a two-week recess starts late this week.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that a resolution to keep in place Title 42 restrictions on border crossings imposed by then-President Donald Trump early in the COVID pandemic be among several amendments his caucus wants to consider when the Senate eventually moves to pass the COVID bill.

“There will have to be an amendment on Title 42 in order to move the bill,” McConnell said at a news conference, adding that his Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, would need to agree on an amendment process before proceeding. 

It was not clear what other amendments Republicans want to vote on. 

Schumer pushed back on the idea of twinning COVID-19 funding to immigration, telling reporters, “It should not be held hostage for an extraneous issue.”

Senate negotiators led by Republican Mitt Romney on Monday had unveiled the bill, which dropped international aid from the package. That bill would provide more funding for making vaccines available at no cost and boost surveillance and testing. [nL2N2W22BK ]

It met mixed reviews from Democrats in the House of Representatives due to its lack of an international aid provision. The House would take up the legislation if it passed the Senate.

Prominent progressive Representative Rashida Tlaib said she was not sure it made sense to pass a bill she considered too small and made comments suggesting that Democrats could have trouble passing the measure in the House that they control by a narrow 221-209 margin. 

Tlaib told reporters she has not decided whether to support the bill, arguing that the United States has an obligation to ensure adequate global resources in the fight against COVID-19. 

“A lot of the success that we can have in crushing COVID-19 is making sure we understand that this is a global issue, just like climate,” said Tlaib, a member of the progressive group known as “The Squad.” 

Some House Democrats offered grudging support for the bill.

“I’ll support it. But I think it kind of sucks,” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern told Reuters.

An amendment vote on Title 42 could further complicate the path forward for COVID aid, if a Senate amendment vote made the restrictions became part of the legislation. It was not clear whether passing a Title 42 amendment would require a supermajority of 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber. 

U.S. health officials are expected to end the sweeping, pandemic-related expulsion policy that has effectively closed down the U.S. asylum system at the border with Mexico. The restrictions were set in place in March 2020 under Trump.

Early this month, Congress failed to pass a $15.6 billion relief bill amid Republican opposition to new federal spending. Many Democrats, meanwhile, rebelled against taking back some money earmarked to help state and local governments in order to pay for the new round of coronavirus relief. 

The House was also expected to vote later this week on legislation replenishing a fund created last year that provides federal grants to restaurants and other small businesses hurt by the COVID pandemic. That bill would provide around $40 billion for around 177,000 restaurants that have applied for aid under the 2021 law but have not received any because funding ran out, according to the National Restaurant Association.

(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Richard Cowan and Katharine Jackson; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)


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