WASHINGTON — The White House today accused congressional Republicans multiple times of not caring about pregnant women and the children they carry by not passing President Obama’s full Zika virus funding request.
Obama requested $1.9 billion. The Senate figure is $1.1 billion; the House is at $622 million. Lawmakers are still wrangling over a Zika agreement.
The GOP has accused the administration of politicizing the Zika epidemic.
“I think by definition, a public health emergency — at least what our public health professionals tell us — is something that requires additional funding so that we can protect the American people. So what this administration has done is aggressively advocated for the resources that our public health professionals say that they need to do everything possible to protect the American people,” press secretary Josh Earnest responded at today’s White House briefing. “And when it comes to protecting pregnant women and their babies, the president believes that we should go to great lengths to do that.”
“If Republicans disagree — If Republicans think that it’s not that important for us to go to great lengths to protect pregnant women and their babies, then they’re certainly entitled to make that case. I think that’s going to be a tough case for them to make, but they’re certainly entitled to make it.”
Republicans began the Zika appropriations process by rolling over money that had been approved by Congress to combat Ebola but wasn’t used.
“President Obama made the case back in February that Congress should act quickly to appropriate the necessary funds. And Republicans now, for more than three months, have dragged their feet and, yes, enhanced the risk facing the American people from the Zika virus because our public health professionals have not gotten the benefit of having had the last three months to prepare for a mosquito population that could be carrying a dangerous virus,” Earnest charged.
“Now, what we’ve said from the beginning is that this virus is not dangerous to most people, but it does pose a particular danger to pregnant women and their babies. And that is something that we believe is worth protecting. And what our public health professionals say is that we need $1.9 billion in specifically allocated resources to do everything possible to fight that virus.”
Earnest added that “unfortunately, Republicans in Congress appear to not have gotten the message.”
Pressed on whether there would be a briefing on the mosquito-season crisis from public officials, Earnest said one could be arranged.
“Our public health professionals are taking it seriously, and they’re doing as much as they can, with the limited resources that they have right now. But there is more that they believe that they can and should be doing to ensure that the American people are protected, particularly pregnant women and their babies that are most at risk — that are most threatened by this specific virus,” the press secretary added. “And they’re not able to do that right now for only one reason, and that’s because Republicans in Congress have blocked the effort to provide them those necessary resources.”
As of May 25, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 591 known cases of the Zika virus in the United States, all related to travel to an affected region of the globe. Eleven of those cases were sexually transmitted.
In Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, there 935 locally transmitted cases and only four cases related to travel. The vast majority of cases — 906 total — are in Puerto Rico.
There have already been reports of babies born in the U.S. with Zika-linked microcephaly.