Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a rally in support of defunding Planned Parenthood. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Conservative grassroots anger at Republican leadership in Congress and in the presidential contest has crescendoed in recent days, and the outrage on the right is forcing the GOP to respond.
The unrest came to a climax on Monday when conservatives tuning back into the political discussion after the weekend saw that on Sunday, the Senate had failed to take up a bill to eliminate taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had forced through an amendment to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which some conservatives decry as an expression of big government crony capitalism for its work to help foreign purchasers buy American goods.
The Senate’s actions on the two issues — particularly in light of recent videos released by an anti-abortion group that posed as a medical purchaser, which show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the disposition of hearts, lungs and livers taken from fetuses donated by women who had abortions — sent some conservatives in paroxysms of anger.
“Why does the Republican party exist?” wrote Ben Domenech, founder of the Federalist, a conservative news and opinion website. “Perhaps you believe the Republican Party exists as today the lone pro-life party in the United States. This cannot be possible after the weekend, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked any attempt to force President Obama and all his fellow Senate Democrats to take a stand for or against not even the legality, but the taxpayer subsidization of harvesting organs from aborted babies.”
Talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh said Republican leaders in Congress have “turned to mush,” and he attributed the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary to the lack of fighting spirit in the GOP.
“Trump is filling the void, which is a partial explanation for why Trump is experiencing such overwhelming support,” Limbaugh said. “Because the people of this country are understandably fed up. They’re fed up with all.”
And conservative blogger Erick Erickson lashed out at the Republican presidential candidates for not saying or doing more to aid the lawmakers in Washington — namely Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah — in their fight against McConnell and the GOP establishment in the Senate.
“Where the hell are the Republican leader [sic]? Of the 2,347 candidates running for President, surely there are more than just Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz willing to speak forcefully and vocally against the Republicans in Washington,” Erickson wrote.
Erickson called out presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry.
Yet each of those candidates has spoken on the record — along with other candidates such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and even Trump — about Planned Parenthood, calling for the women’s health organization to be investigated or even immediately defunded as an investigation unfolds.
“'It just troubles me that you would sell body parts. It just makes no sense to me,” Bush, the former governor of Florida, said last week during a tour of a pregnancy center in South Carolina. “Congress has every right to investigate these abuses.”
He stopped short of calling for Planned Parenthood affiliates to lose their federal funding. “'I think it’s time for us to re-evaluate all these programs,” Bush said.
Rubio, the U.S. Senator from Florida, was more pointed.
“The cruel and callous language used by senior Planned Parenthood officials is sickening, shows a complete disregard for innocent unborn life, not to mention Planned Parenthood’s clients, and speaks to an organization that is morally bankrupt,” Rubio said last week. “There is simply no justification for an organization that fosters this kind of culture to receive a penny of taxpayer funding, and there should be a serious and impartial investigation into the grotesque practices revealed by the video.”
By law any federal monies received by Planned Parenthood already cannot be used for abortions; the group received $528 million in federal and state government funding in 2014. A majority of Americans in polls say they do not support federal funds being used for abortion; such funding has been banned, with rare exceptions, under the Hyde amendment since 1976 .
Planned Parenthood says abortion makes up only 3 percent of its services. Its most recent annual report stated that the group’s affiliates conducted 327,653 abortions from 2012 to 2013.
The sale of fetal tissue is banned by law, and Planned Parenthood says the videos do not show efforts to illegally sell tissue, but rather the price of storing and transporting such tissue, which women who have abortions have the option to voluntarily donate to medical research. A poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood found that 64 percent of respondents want the group to continue to receive federal funding.
In the Congress, after Lee’s amendment to defund Planned Parenthood on Sunday failed to advance to a vote — an outcome Lee’s office believes was engineered by McConnell — Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, vowed on Monday that the Senate would vote this week on the matter.
McConnell spoke Tuesday with Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, and also promised her a vote on the issue before the Senate leaves for summer recess — either this week or next.
“He wanted to make it clear, given what happened over the weekend, that he has every intention to have a vote before recess and that he’s formed a working group as to what is the right approach and the way to go,” Dannenfelser said in a phone interview. “I have seen senators seeking to lead on this in a truly different way than I’ve seen in 20 years.”
Tuesday evening, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and McConnell fast-tracked the bill to allow it to bypass the committee process and proceed directly to the Senate floor. The Planned Parenthood videos, McConnell said, are a “national scandal” that “requires a congressional response.”
The challenge for Republican leaders in Congress is balancing the desire from the base for immediate action with a more strategic approach. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the content of the videos — there are three now after the Center for Medical Progress released another on Tuesday — has made him want to “vomit.” But he has also said he wants to gather more facts before the House votes on the issue, with an eye toward winning over moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats.
“No one supports defunding this group more than the Speaker, under whose leadership the House has passed the most sweeping pro-life legislation in history. While the timing of such a vote has not yet been decided, we know that in order to enact legislation to defund this group for any amount of time, we need to gain more support from Republicans and Democrats, and that’s why these investigations are so important,” said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith. “The more Americans learn about Planned Parenthood’s horrific practices, the easier it will be for Congress to defund them.”
As for the Export-Import Bank, Boehner had expressed support for it. But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made it clear this week that the House would not vote on legislation that would reauthorize the institution, whose charter expired at the end of June, no matter what actions the Senate took. The issue will be revisited in September when the High Transportation Fund bill comes up for reauthorization.