WASHINGTON -- Republicans added a series of poison pills to a bill to fund the government's Zika response so they could satisfy the party's "crazies," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) charged on Wednesday.
Reid made that claim a day after Democrats blocked the Zika funding, citing GOP-crafted riders in the spending bill the House passed last week that promoted the Confederate flag, obstructed contraceptive services for women and weakened clean water rules, among other things.
Democrats did so, Reid said, because the Republican-led House operates under an informal standard called the "Hastert Rule" -- which, Reid noted, is named after former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is serving time for crimes related to his sexual abuse of boys. The Hastert Rule demands that any legislation that comes to the floor must have the support of a majority of Republicans.
In the post-tea party era, it can be difficult to get that majority. And, Reid argued, that is why the House GOP had to go to absurd lengths to win over enough of its members before bringing the legislation up for a vote last week, in the middle of the Democrats' sit-in over gun legislation.
"As could only be understood by understanding what the Hastert Rule is, here's what they did," Reid said. "They had to get all of the crazies over there," he said.
"They did everything they could to go after all the pet projects of Republicans," he added, explaining why the Zika bill prevents money from going to groups like Planned Parenthood.
"This Zika -- young women are concerned about birth control. For a majority of
young women, this is the only place they have to go," Reid said. "But what did [Republicans] do? They said we're going to restrict funding for birth control
provided by Planned Parenthood. Why would they do that? Only to get votes from the crazies over there."
“They said we're going to restrict funding for birth control provided by Planned Parenthood. Why would they do that? Only to get votes from the crazies over there.”
Reid also noted that a provision in the bill -- which was attached to a larger spending measure to fund veterans' programs and military construction -- exempts pesticide spraying from clean water rules. However, Zika-carrying mosquitoes breed in flower pots and discarded bottle caps, not in the open water governed by those rules.
And then there's a provision repealing a law that banned Confederate flags in veterans' cemeteries.
"I guess they had to make sure they had all the Southern votes," Reid said. "If they got their way, you could fly Confederate flags on any military cemetery you wanted."
The Democrat made his remarks on the Senate floor just after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) opened the session by blaming Democrats for stopping the Zika measure that they and the White House had been seeking since February.
"They demanded congressional action on Zika," McConnell said. "Then, in the midst of mosquito season, Democrats chose partisan politics over $1.1 billion in critical funds to protect pregnant women and babies from Zika, after -- and
listen to this, colleagues -- after Democrats voted for the same $1.1 billion funding level just last month."
McConnell did not mention that the bill Democrats backed last month lacked all the riders that Reid is complaining about. Those were added in what's known as a conference committee, formed when the House and Senate each pass the same bill, but with different provisions.
Democrats were excluded from the conference report on Zika, which the House passed amid their sit-in on guns.
McConnell said he will bring the rider-laden bill back up for another vote after the July 4 break.
Nearly 2,700 people in the United States and its territories have the Zika virus, including nearly 500 pregnant women. The ailment is especially damaging during pregnancies, leading to a birth defect known as microcephaly in developing infants.
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to reflect more specifically the crimes of which Hastert was convicted.