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Clinton Blasts Congress for Lack of Action as Zika Spreads in Florida

Clinton's comments come as the number of locally-transmitted cases rises again.

By , a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2014-2017.
GettyImages-587469988
GettyImages-587469988

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton inserted herself into the growing Zika crisis Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to return to Washington to provide funding to stop the spread of the virus.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton inserted herself into the growing Zika crisis Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to return to Washington to provide funding to stop the spread of the virus.

Clinton spoke after touring the Borinquen Medical Center, a health clinic close to the Wynwood area of Miami where 21 non-travel related cases — up from 14 last week — have been detected. She wants the GOP to act on President Barack Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to fight the disease, or to come up with some compromise plan that puts federal funds to work in stopping the spread of the virus. Zika has been linked both to misshapen heads in newborns and Guillain-Barré, a condition that causes paralysis in adults.

“I am very disappointed that the Congress went on recess before actually agreeing what they would do to put the resources into this fight,” Clinton said after visiting the health center. “I would very much urge the leadership of Congress to call people back for a special session and get a bill passed.” Her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, has said he’d return to Washington for a vote on a Zika bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he is in no rush to return to Washington. Writing in the Lexington Herald-Leader last week, he said lawmakers would deal with Zika funding after Labor Day when Congress is back in session.

Florida lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have also decried the lack of federal action. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in a radio interview Monday, “Congress needs to come back and get something done, actually pass a bill that has more money. …So that’s why I am calling for Congress to go back this month and get it done quickly.”

Clinton’s plea comes as concerns grow over the spread inside the United States of the disease, which until recently had been limited to people who had recently traveled to tropical climes like Latin America and the Caribbean. Public health investigators in Florida are now looking into whether a Zika case in Palm Beach County was transmitted here in the United States. Also on Tuesday, Texas health officials reported a baby born with microcephaly linked to Zika recently died in the state. This case was related to travel abroad.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1,825 Zika cases in the United States. In all U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, there are more than 5,500.

The tussle for funding to stop the spread of the disease has run head-on into partisan politics. Obama and other Democrats accuse Republicans of politicizing the president’s funding request by inserting a measure into a $1.1 billion Zika spending plan that would have blocked Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving federal cash. Republicans counter that the White House has not spent existing funds to stop Zika.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell disagreed with the Republican argument. In a letter to GOP lawmakers Monday, she said Phase II trials of a Zika vaccine will be delayed without more money from Congress, and that the $47 million the administration shifted to the National Institutes of Health for work on a vaccine will be gone by the end of the month. She also said that $143 million of the $222 million in the Zika war chest at the CDC would be exhausted by the end of September.

Rubio’s plea for a congressional vote was echoed by Florida’s Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat, who told CNBC Tuesday, “There are lives at stake and the problem gets worse literally every day. Every single day means more Zika babies and more deaths. The technology that can end this crisis is well understood.”

Photo credit: GREGG NEWTON/Getty Images

David Francis was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2014-2017.

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