Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton told Congress Friday to swiftly approve President Obama’s $1.9 billion request to fight the Zika virus at home and abroad, saying the outbreak linked to serious birth defects is “real,” “dangerous” and threatening U.S. shores.
“The president asked for this funding over a month ago, but on Saturday, Congress will begin a two-week break without having allocated one penny,” the former secretary of state said in a post on Medium.com.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, issued a similar call Friday. In a letter to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, she said Congress should not break for Easter recess until it approves emergency funds to combat Zika, the opioid crisis and the lead-tainted water fiasco in Flint, Michigan.
Congressional Republicans say the White House should spend money left over from the Ebola fight before it seeks a massive influx of new money for the Zika fight.
Mrs. Clinton lambasted that position in her post, aligning herself with Obama administration officials who’ve said the Ebola fight isn’t over.
“Why would we lower our defenses against one public health threat in order to meet another one? That’s senseless and dangerous. Congress needs to provide the funds to fight Zika now,” wrote Mrs. Clinton, who is working to seal her party’s nomination over Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
The rapid spread of Zika virus in Brazil and other Latin America countries has been tied to a sharp uptick in the number of babies born with abnormally small heads, or microcephaly.
Puerto Rico has reported 259 cases of locally acquired Zika, mainly because its warm climes are hospitable to the Aedes aegypti mosquito that serves as the virus’s primary vector.
As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 258 cases in travelers who returned from Zika-affected countries to the states, plus five confirmed cases of sexual transmission.
Though Zika isn’t transmitting locally within the U.S., scientists said that could change once temperatures climb. The Aedes aegypti is found in several southern states, and the more-prevalent Aedes albopictus mosquito is capable of carrying the virus.
“Zika is real. It’s dangerous,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It’s already reached the United States. We need to act now to protect people, especially pregnant women. There are smart, achievable things we could be doing right now, and there’s no time to waste. So we need Congress to act. We need citizens to demand action.”