Sen. Dick Durbin hosted a roundtable discussion Monday at Chicago’s Prentice Women’s Hospital to discuss the Zika virus and Congress’ inability to approve emergency funding for prevention and treatment.
"Zika is a real public health emergency and it is only getting worse as the temperatures rise and summer travel season begins," Durbin said in a statement.
The senator voted in favor of emergency Zika funding in May. The bill would have funded Zika control efforts, vaccine research and health care services for pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to severe birth defects while fetuses are in utero.
The bill ultimately passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but was shot down in the House of Representatives after being loaded with caveats that would have slashed environmental regulations and blocked funding for Planned Parenthood.
"It is unacceptable that some in Congress are politicizing disaster response with extreme and unnecessary partisan priorities," Durbin said. “Now is not the time for playing politics with sham votes attempting to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back environmental protections."
Over 2,900 people in the U.S. have been infected with Zika. This includes over 500 pregnant women and 23 Illinoisans.
On Friday, Durbin announced that the CDC awarded the state of Illinois $349,414 in funding to combat the Zika virus. Additionally, the Chicago Department of Public Health will receive $203,301 to protect the city. Durbin’s office called the funding a "stopgap measure."
Last week, Durbin also wrote a letter with a group of Senate Democrats urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to take immediate action on Zika relief funding.
Durbin, alongside with Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray, asked the Republican leaders to cooperate on a bipartisan Zika solution that doesn’t include "poison pill riders," like slashing environmental regulations and blocking Planned Parenthood funding.
Last month, Durbin pointed to the potentially dire consequences of not reacting to the virus.
"Evidence given to us by the leading public health defense agency in the United States of America — if not the world — tell us that this is a deadly threat,"Durbin said. "Dr. Williamson of the Centers for Disease Control said he would not have expected so many Zika-infected donors until late June or early July."
"What is the Republican Majority waiting for?" he asked,