Senate GOP backtracks after veterans bill firestorm

minority leader Mitch McConnell on Monday declined to answer a question about why the law was put on hold.

“It will pass this week,” he said.

Other Republicans in the Senate leadership struck a similar tone. Sen john barrasso (R-Wyo.) told POLITICO that he would “expect this to pass” and Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, echoed that “at some point this is going to pass and it will get bigger.”

Republicans say they blocked the bill because of concerns led by Sen. Pat Tommy (R-Pa.) What the retired senator called a “budgetary gimmick”—language he argued could allow some of the funds to be used for programs not related to veterans’ health care. That language was in the bill when it initially passed the Senate in a vote of 84–14, before a technical snag forced the chamber to vote again.

“The drug got out of this stuff, but remember why this drug came out. When they first passed it here, they did it wrong,” Thun said, adding that it was the Democrats who “spoiled the first time.”

Schumer is expected to force another vote on the Veterans bill this week, pledging Monday that he will bring it up “in the coming days.”

“We’re going to give Senate Republicans one more chance to do the right thing,” he said.

The New York Democrat will likely give Republicans an off-ramp by voting Tomy on his proposed amendment, which Pennsylvania Republicans and many of their allies say they have been requesting for months.

“The ball is in the leader’s court and I haven’t heard what they’ve decided to do … We haven’t been told that we have an amendment vote scheduled. Hopefully, it will be forthcoming,” Tommy said on Monday .

The amendment clarification has done little to curb Democratic allegations that the GOP turned a non-controversial scheme into a political football to help combat exposure to Agent Orange and toxic burn pits. Democrats have sharply questioned the turnabout, as 25 Republicans voted on the budget issue to move the bill to the floor for only the second time, not its first.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Sen said. john tester (D-Mont.) “I don’t know [if] To be honest people really understand what they were voting on. There is no slush fund in it.”

Importantly, even if Tommy gets the vote, his amendment is not expected to have enough support to eventually be included—leaving Republicans with the same veteran bill most of them voted to block last week. And some are still saying they are unwilling to scrap the law pushing the amendment.

“If I get a chance to vote for an amendment, I can vote for the amendment, but I want to make sure that the bill doesn’t lapse,” Sen said. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said he generally agreed with Tommy’s concern. Sen Rob Portman (R-Ohio) similarly stated that he broadly supported the amendment.

Still, Toomey has tried to rally his colleagues behind placing the veterans’ bill in private conference meetings; Republicans argue that Democrats promised an amendment vote on their concerns in June, only to backfire.

Those disputes largely flew under the radar until last week, when Bill crashed to the floor. Veterans advocacy groups flew over Washington in hopes of celebrating the final passage—instead, it became a press conference to rail against the GOP senators who held it.

“As someone who has worked on this bill for years, I am simply disappointed that some of my Republican colleagues, whether out of personal pique or for some misguided political motive… wanted to flip-flop. But As long as it comes to the right result, the same is important for the country and the stalwarts,” Sen said. Richard Blumenthal (D-Con.).

The criticism hasn’t given up this week.

Comedian Jon Stewart – rallying with veterans who have been camping outside the Senate for days – on Monday slammed Republicans for slowing down the passage of the bill.

Stewart said, “I’m not afraid of you and I don’t care, because these are the people to whom I owe my gratitude.” “Don’t go here tonight unless you do the right thing by these guys. As simple as this: don’t make it any harder than it is.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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