Spooked GOP Senate Leaders Backpedal After Holding Vet Bill Hostage

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media at the Capitol on June 9, 2020. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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Facing overwhelming backlash after tanking a previously-approved veterans health benefits bill (known as the PACT Act) out of spite over Democrats’ climate and tax legislation, the Senate’s Republican leadership now seems to have realized that the tantrum isn’t worth it.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), one of the 25 Republicans who had abruptly switched their initial “yes” vote to a “no,” signaled on Monday that the bill, which provides aid for veterans suffering from toxic exposures, will overcome the blockade when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) puts it up for a vote again.

“It will pass this week,” McConnell said.

A similarly squirmy Senate Republican Conference chair John Barrasso (R-WY), the third-ranking GOP senator and another Republican who had changed his vote, told Politico that he would “expect it to pass.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD), who voted against the legislation both times, said that at “some point” the bill “is going to pass and it will pass big.”

The leaders’ backtracking marks an attempt at damage control as Republican senators find themselves getting raked over the coals for blocking the PACT Act, which had initially passed the Senate in a largely bipartisan 84-14 vote last month but was brought to a vote again last week due to a technical error.

When the legislation was put to a vote again, 25 Republicans who’d voted for it the first time inexplicably blocked the bill; a move that was widely understood to be a flailing attempt at politically motivated retaliation after Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced a deal on a bill to address climate change, drug pricing and corporate taxes.

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