The Zika virus hit the floor of the U.S. House Wednesday – if only figuratively – as a Florida Republican sought to hammer home the “fear” his constituents feel by bringing a container filled with mosquitoes with him inside the chambers.
The headline-grabbing move came as lawmakers from both parties were pointing fingers over the failure to pass legislation providing $1.1 billion to combat the mosquito-borne virus. That bill is stalled in the Senate, where Democrats on Tuesday again blocked it in a dispute over restrictions on Planned Parenthood.
“People are scared,” Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., said Wednesday on the House floor. “The politics of Zika are garbage right now.”
Jolly was holding a closed, clear container of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are the type that carry the Zika virus linked to birth defects. His office said they are still in the larvae stage but are expected to hatch on Wednesday.
He said the mosquitoes in the container are free of the virus, but taunted his fellow lawmakers about what they would do if they were released.
“Can you imagine, colleagues, the fear and anxiety in this chamber if these hundred mosquitoes were outside this jar not inside this jar?” Jolly asked. “Members of Congress would run down the hall to the physician’s office to be tested, they would spray themselves before coming down here. This is the fear of Floridians, right here.”
The larvae were grown at the University of South Florida, where researchers are studying the virus and trying to help find an eventual vaccine.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats for the third time blocked a Zika funding package and an accompanying Veterans Administration spending bill over restrictions on Planned Parenthood.
The vote renewed a political funding fight just hours after Congress returned from recess.
“It’s hard to explain why — despite their own calls for funding — Senate Democrats decided to block a bill that could help keep pregnant women and babies safer from Zika,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement, “If anyone thinks the Zika virus is some political game, they should take it elsewhere. We now have nearly 17,000 Americans infected with Zika and we know that mosquitoes in the continental U.S. are carrying it, but too many in Washington don’t seem to care.”
But Democrats oppose the Zika measure as it bars Planned Parenthood clinics in Zika-suffering Puerto Rico from receiving new money to treat the disease and curb its spread. The legislation also would ease, over the objections of environmentalists, permitting requirements for pesticide spraying to kill the mosquitoes that can spread the virus.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans had “loaded it up with poison pill riders to assuage the hard right.”
Shortly before Jolly brought a jar of larvae to the floor, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi nearly choked up speaking about babies born with Zika-tied microcephaly, calling the funding stalemate a “disgrace” and demanding anti-Zika efforts be funded for a year.
She, too, called for a clean bill with no “poison pills.”
The Zika threat hasn’t gripped the public as Ebola did two years ago, but pressure is building as dozens of mosquito-transmitted Zika cases have been confirmed in the political battleground state of Florida since lawmakers left Washington in July.
Jolly, who is locked in a tough race in a redrawn congressional district against former Gov. Charlie Crist, said Floridians are angry. He said it is too bad that candidates are going to spend money on campaign commercials about Zika, instead of responding together to solve the public health crisis.
“That is why I am joined by these mosquitoes today,” he said.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.