Congress returns to big fights over Ukraine aid, Title 42, COVID-19 relief


WASHINGTON – Congress will return from spring recess on Monday afternoon to requests from President Joe Biden, surging consumer prices, an immigration debate, party infighting and looming deadlines.

Lawmakers will make decisions on White House requests, such as aid packages for COVID-19 relief and Ukraine, along with some of their own competing priorities.

But time is running short, with senators and members of Congress aiming to gear up their campaigns for the November midterm elections.

Here’s what Congress has to deal with when lawmakers return.

Help for Ukraine

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday said her chamber will take up Biden’s request for an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine as soon as possible this week.

But as of Friday afternoon, a vote hadn’t been scheduled, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s agenda.

Biden announced additional military aid for Ukraine on Thursday totaling about $800 million, matching the same amount designated last week. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was “just what we were waiting for.”

Though there’s bipartisan support among lawmakers and Americans for helping Ukraine, passing the next aid package could be complicated.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he would tie additional Ukraine aid to COVID-19 relief to try to force both through.

Addressing the pandemic

But COVID-19 relief talks stalled before spring break because Republicans tried to add amendments related to Biden’s decision to reverse Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic order that stopped migrants seeking asylum from crossing the US-Mexico border.

Senators stalled a $10 billion COVID-19 aid package before the recess, despite calls from the White House to approve the relief as money runs out for vaccines.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said the money was necessary for a new generation of vaccines in the fall.

Biden had asked for more than $22 billion in aid. Senators agreed to $10 billion in a deal partially brokered by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

But that deal stalled because Republicans wanted to attach Title 42 amendments.

“There is broad support in the GOP conference for the COVID relief bill, but we can’t move forward until leadership on both sides agree on a sufficient amendment process,” Romney said in a statement April 5.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., one of the leading negotiators of the package, said April 10 on “Face the Nation” that providing global COVID-19 aid was “critical” and “the best way to protect the American people from the next variant.”

Schumer said last week that he was planning for new negotiations on COVID-19 aid, but no vote had been scheduled.

Title 42 and the southern border

Biden is also facing pushback from his own party on Title 42, particularly among vulnerable Democrats facing reelection, underscoring the challenges of legislating in a midterm year.

What is Title 42?: Why Republicans, some Democrats want it to stay

Earlier this month, Biden announced plans to rescind Title 42, a move that is expected to attract more migrants to the US-Mexico border. The policy is set to end May 23. Republicans have blasted the decision, and several moderate Democrats in Congress have it as well.

But the president has been undeterred by opposition. His administration on Friday asked a federal judge in Louisiana to deny a request from more than 20 states to block the end of the pandemic restriction along the border, claiming the plaintiffs failed to show they face a significant threat of injury.

Midterm pressure

“As the election gets closer, it seems like the momentum for legislating peters out,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The sweet spot for big legislation packages is historically a year or so before the midterm, he said.

That was true of the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bills that passed last year.

Biden and members of Congress have continued to push forth with their individual wish lists, including a House bill to lower insulin costs and a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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Contributing: Joey Garrison

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Congress at odds over Ukraine, COVID-19, Title 42



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