The Senate’s Bid to Defund Planned Parenthood Is Just Getting Started

If a vote fails next week, as expected, the GOP plans to to keep bringing the defunding measures to the floor.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Anti-abortion activists hold a rally opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced a Senate deal to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood before the Senate goes into recess in August.
National Journal
July 29, 2015, 11:53 a.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are vow­ing that if a stand-alone meas­ure to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood fails next week, the pro­vi­sion will come up again and again — in­clud­ing, pos­sibly, as part of a gov­ern­ment-spend­ing bill in the fall.

Re­pub­lic­ans clearly see the pos­sib­il­ity over for­cing re­peated votes to cut fund­ing for the group, which is un­der scru­tiny for sting videos that show of­fi­cials al­legedly dis­cuss­ing the sale of fetal tis­sue, as a polit­ic­al win­ner.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn did not ex­pli­citly en­dorse de­fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood as part of the spend­ing bill that Con­gress is ex­pec­ted to take up be­fore its Sept. 30 dead­line to keep the gov­ern­ment fun­ded. But he also did not rule it out when asked mul­tiple times Wed­nes­day about the pos­sib­il­ity.

“I’m con­fid­ent we’ll use every re­source avail­able to us, every tool,” he said when asked dir­ectly if de­fund­ing could be in­cluded in a gov­ern­ment-spend­ing bill.

When asked the same ques­tion again mo­ments later, Cornyn said, “I think you’ll see it in oth­er mani­fest­a­tions. I do, yeah.

“This is go­ing to un­fold, I think, as people learn more about it and as the pub­lic be­comes more and more hor­ri­fied at what they’re learn­ing,” he said. “What we don’t yet know is wheth­er they vi­ol­ated law with re­gard to con­sent or with re­gard to prof­it­eer­ing, and so those are sorts of things that will come up. It may be that there are more ad­di­tion­al fol­low-on pieces of le­gis­la­tion that are offered un­til we get to be able to stop this ter­rible prac­tice.”

A group of 18 Re­pub­lic­an rep­res­ent­at­ives sent a let­ter to House lead­er­ship Wed­nes­day say­ing they would not sup­port any spend­ing bill fund­ing Planned Par­ent­hood.

The first test is next week’s stand-alone bill, craf­ted by a work­ing group led by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, which would pro­hib­it fed­er­al fund­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood and re­dir­ect the money to com­munity health cen­ters. It isn’t ex­pec­ted to at­tract enough Demo­crat­ic sup­port to break the 60-vote threshold needed to ad­vance. “We’ll find out Monday night,” Cornyn said.

By re­dir­ect­ing the money so it would still be used for wo­men’s health, Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing to avoid fa­mil­i­ar ac­cus­a­tions from Demo­crats of be­ing an­ti­wo­man. And they are seiz­ing upon Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­scrip­tion of im­ages in the videos as “dis­turb­ing.” Clin­ton con­tin­ues to de­fend Planned Par­ent­hood, however, which the GOP is not men­tion­ing.

“Even Hil­lary Clin­ton has said this is very dis­turb­ing, so I think they need to take a good hard look at it and listen to their con­stitu­ents, be­cause this is rep­re­hens­ible,” Ernst said in an in­ter­view.

But the as­sump­tion is still that next week’s vote will fail, and the path after that isn’t yet clear. Sen­ate lead­ers them­selves don’t know what they’ll do next, al­though at this point, they sound open to any­thing.

“I wouldn’t rule any­thing out,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 4 Re­pub­lic­an in the cham­ber. “I don’t think, again, that that’s been mapped out or thought out yet. I think we’re go­ing to start with this step and we’ll see where the next steps go.”

Al­though Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell kept amend­ments to de­fund Planned Par­ent­hood off must-pass high­way le­gis­la­tion, that trend might not hold in the fu­ture.

“There’s al­ways an­oth­er bill com­ing across the floor. In the Sen­ate, as you know, bills are open to amend­ment and there may be something that fits,” Thune said.

Re­pub­lic­ans are also bank­ing on con­tin­ued pub­lic mo­mentum for their cause. The or­gan­iz­a­tion re­spons­ible for the videos has said there are enough re­cord­ings to re­lease a new video every week for months.

“I don’t think the is­sue’s go­ing to go away,” Thune said. “I think these videos are so dis­turb­ing to people and demon­strate such a cal­lous dis­reg­ard for hu­man life that there seems to be an in­terest in do­ing something to try and en­sure this sort of thing doesn’t hap­pen again.”

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