This article has been updated.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the floor on Tuesday to say he is “hopeful” that his GOP colleagues will cooperate with a three-week continuing resolution to keep the government funded ahead of Friday’s looming shutdown deadline.
“No one and certainly not my Republican colleagues want a Republican government shutdown,” Schumer said. “So I’m hopeful they will cooperate with us to pass this necessary CR which every single Democrats wants.”
Schumer’s remarks come a day after Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) threatened to hold up the bill to keep the government funded until the Biden administration addresses her questions about a debunked conspiracy theory involving … crack pipes. Like many GOP grievances these days, the conspiracy theory was birthed in the right-wing media swamps and has made its way to the halls of Congress, becoming Republicans’ latest talking point for obstruction.
(Hours after this piece was published Blackburn eventually back off her initial threat to hold up the stopgap funding bill, after an administration official informed her that “no taxpayer funding will be used to fund crack pipes,” her spokesperson said.)
In a now-viral article published by the conservative news outlet Washington Free Beacon last week, the publication falsely reported that the Biden administration planned to distribute “crack pipes” as part of a $30 million public health grant package.
The report, titled “Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity,’” claimed that an HHS spokesperson confirmed that a sweeping harm reduction package would “provide pipes” to smoke “any illicit substance.”
“Included in the grant, which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, are funds for ‘smoking kits/supplies,’” the Beacon article said. “A spokesman for the agency told the Washington Free Beacon that these kits will provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.’”
The Biden administration has denied the claims in the report. But more importantly, the Beacon’s accusations are simply not true. The new public health grant program is designed to help reduce health risks associated with drug use and confront the rise in overdose deaths in the U.S., which have skyrocketed during the pandemic. The Harm Reduction Grant Program was introduced in December. Local communities can apply for the grant, offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The program does include safe smoking kits, but there are no pipes involved, per the White House last week: “A safe smoking kit may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last Wednesday.
On top of that, the Beacon’s claims were swiftly debunked by a Daily Beast report published Friday. Last week, an HHS spokesperson confirmed to the Beast that claims of smoking kits funded by the administration “will provide pipes” are false. HHS told the Beast that the spokesperson never issued nor confirmed that claim, and provided the Beast with the thread of emails that were exchanged with the Beacon reporter.
According to the Beast, the emails show that the reporter never mentioned pipes. The HHS representative added that the reporter “never asked about pipes” in the email chain. If you read the Daily Beast piece you’ll see: HHS’ statement to the Beacon not only doesn’t mention pipes, but the official also makes it clear that all kits distributed will comply with federal law (a.k.a., no crack pipes).
As of Tuesday morning, the Beacon’s article pushing the false claims about the Biden administration’s public health grant package has not been corrected.
Since then, a number of Republicans on the Hill have latched onto the fake Beacon report to once again stoke baseless outrage about the Biden administration’s policies and initiatives. And now, Blackburn is taking the whole ordeal several steps further, weaponizing the fake report to throw a wrench in Senate efforts to avoid a partial shutdown later this week.
“All we want to know is how much money they are using for safe-smoking kits? What is in the kits? Where is this money going?” Blackburn told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday. “Once I get an answer, I will lift my hold. I’m just waiting for an answer.”
Other Republican lawmakers have also moved to block funding for pipes, which, again, is not happening.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill called the Cutting Rampant Access to Crack Kit (CRACK) Act to prohibit federal funding from being used to purchase drug paraphernalia. Rubio introduced it days after the Beacon’s report was published.
But, again, the Biden administration maintains that none of this was ever happening in the first.
“They were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting. And we wanted to put out information to make that clear,” Psaki told reporters last week.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and White House drug policy adviser Rahul Gupta also told the Beast in a joint statement last week that no federal funding would be “used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”