Senate passes extension of funding for radiation exposure victims

The Senate passed on Thursday an extension — and expansion — of funding for victims of radiation exposure

The vote was 69-30, and heads next to the House.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has been pushing to pass additional funding of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, since last year, and his guests for Thursday night’s State of the Union address include families from Missouri who have been affected by radiation contamination.

Hawley told reporters last week that he wanted to see how several candidates for Senate GOP leader - including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota - vote on this package, as he weighs who to support for the top job. Both Cornyn and Thune voted “no” Thursday.

Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both of New Mexico, who represent the site of the original atom bomb tests and construction, are also among those who have been advocating for this bill’s passage.

It’s unclear when or if House Speaker Mike Johnson will bring the legislation up for a vote in the chamber.

In a statement following the vote, Luján thanked Hawley for his efforts to pass the legislation.

“Now, I urge Speaker Johnson to put this bipartisan bill on the House floor for a vote,” Lujan said. “Every day that Congress does not act is another day that the federal government has failed these victims.”

After the vote, Hawley was immediately greeted by his wife, his young daughter, and several of the activists affected by radiation exposure.

“We got Mitch McConnell,” said one woman as she hugged Hawley. “Sixty-nine?” another asked incredulously, on the verge of tears, referring to the number of senators who voted for the measure.

Hawley, who has often criticized the Senate GOP leader, said that they “appreciate the support of Senator McConnell and everybody who voted for it, so that’s terrific. Now we got to get it passed in the House.”

Asked about his strategy to get this bill passed on the House floor, Hawley said he needs to talk to Johnson about their plan.

“We’re on the clock here, June 7, is when this ticks down,” he said, referencing the day that the funding expires. “So they need to pass it. There’s not a lot of time, but they now have a live vehicle with big support, including leadership support on both sides.”

Pressed by CNN on the two declared candidates for Senate GOP leader voting against this bill, and if it could cost them his support, Hawley replied, “It means another candidate in the race, that’s what it tells me. We need some more options … I’m joking, but only half joking.”

He continued, “I’ve been very clear this is really important. So I appreciated the leader’s support.”

Hawley also noted that Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is running for Senate Republican Conference chair, and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, whom former President Donald Trump has encouraged to run for leader, both voted for the bill.

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