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In Miami, Clinton to call on Congress to act on Zika virus

By Lisa Lerer Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton will call on Congress to return to Washington and pass emergency funding for the Zika response during a visit to a Miami neighborhood dealing with the first U.S. outbreak of the disease.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Democratic presidential candidate plans to tour the Borinquen Medical Center, a health clinic close to the Wynwood area where 16 non-travel related cases have been diagnosed. She will demand Republican leaders bring Congress back in session to either pass stalled legislation or craft a new bipartisan compromise bill to provide funding for testing, treatment and research on the disease, according to aides briefed on her plans.

Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, has already said he’d return to Washington for a vote on a Zika bill.

Until this month, the only known Zika cases in the United States were in people who had recently traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean. Federal officials last week warned pregnant women to avoid the Miami neighborhood and a 1-square-mile area around it.

Public health experts worry about the disease spreading: Florida health officials said on Monday they’re investigating a case of Zika virus infection in Palm Beach County that was likely contracted in the United States.

Lawmakers left Washington in mid-July for a seven-week recess without approving any of the $1.9 billion that President Barack Obama requested in February to develop a vaccine and control the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Both sides have been pointing fingers since. Obama, Clinton and Democrats blame Republicans for politicizing the legislation by adding a provision to a $1.1 billion take-it-or-leave-it measure that would have blocked Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money. Republicans say the administration has not spent money that has already been provided and is trying to play politics in an election year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has signaled he is in no rush to return. Writing in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader last week, he criticized Democrats for balking at passing the bill. He said they’ll get another chance after Labor Day when Congress is back in session.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Tuesday that Senate Democrats were holding up the bill through the “use of a filibuster.”

“We would love for Sen. Kaine and others to end that filibuster and pass the bill, but it doesn’t sound like they’re prepared to do that,” he said. “Apparently they believe an earmark for Planned Parenthood in the future is more important than preventing the threat of Zika now.”

Stewart added that there were opportunities to move quickly on the legislation, saying: “whenever they’re ready to stop blocking funding for anti-Zika efforts and funding for our veterans, we’ll be here waiting.”

Clinton supported the initial Senate bill, which her policy aide Ann O’Leary called “a critical first step to protect public health and ultimately save lives” in a post on the website Medium.

She laid out a plan to combat the virus last March, which included allocating $1.8 billion in emergency funds. A month later, she dispatched two of her aides to Puerto Rico, where hundreds of cases have been detected, to meet with medical professionals.

“Zika is real. It’s dangerous. And if we’re serious about stopping this epidemic in its tracks, then there’s no time to waste,” Clinton wrote in a June op-ed in the Sun Sentinel.

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