Saturday afternoon, President Biden connected through FaceTime with veterans and their families camping outside the Capitol as they wait for the Senate to extend health benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits during their military service.
Biden was initially going to make an unannounced visit to the Capitol to visit with the veterans, but tested positive for COVID-19 again in a “rebound” case hours earlier, so he instead sent his Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Denis McDonough, to deliver pizza on his behalf and connect him with the veterans.
“I planned an unscheduled trip to Capitol Hill this afternoon to meet the families fighting to pass burn pits legislation,” Biden tweeted. “A positive COVID test got in the way, but I want to thank @SecVetAffairs for bringing pizza in my place and connecting me with the families via FaceTime.”
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A digital aide for Sen. Gillibrand’s, D-N.Y. office captured a video of the veterans and their families crowded around McDonough as he FaceTimed with Biden. Some of the exchange was inaudible, but near the end of the video Biden said that there was a “sacred obligation” for Congress to take care of the military when they returned home and said he meant this “from the bottom of my heart.”
Biden also said that it was “despicable” that there were Senators who opposed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, and said he believes that those who opposed the bill were “going to make up for the mistake they made.”
Earlier this past week, the Senate attempted to advance the PACT Act, but it was five votes short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome the filibuster, only receiving 55 votes. Despite the vote coming up short, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Thursday that he would bring it up for a vote on Monday.
“We are going to give our Republican friends another opportunity to vote on this Monday night,” Schumer said.
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Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., has been one of the leading voices opposed to the most recent version of the PACT Act, saying in a press release this past week that the Democrats are using the PACT Act to push through $400 billion “over the next 10 years in spending completely unrelated to veterans.”
“The PACT Act as written includes a budget gimmick that would allow $400 billion of current law spending to be moved from the discretionary to the mandatory spending category. This provision is completely unnecessary to achieve the PACT Act’s stated goal of expanding health care and other benefits for veterans,” Toomey’s office said. “However, it would enable an additional $400 billion in future discretionary spending completely unrelated to veterans. By failing to remove this gimmick, Congress would effectively be using an important veterans care bill to hide a massive, unrelated spending binge.”
Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who previously advocated for 9/11 first responders exposed to toxins, blasted Senate Republicans on Thursday for blocking the passage of the bill, saying it was a “gut punch.”
“We’re gonna get it done. … You don’t tell their cancer to take a recess, tell their cancer to stay home and go visit their families,” he said. “This disgrace, if this is America first, America is f—ed.”