At the start of his controversial comments yesterday on women’s health, Jeb Bush told a conservative audience, “The next president should defund Planned Parenthood.” It was subtle, but the phrasing mattered. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler joked that when Bush referred to “the next president,” he was effectively telling congressional Republicans, “Please don’t shut down the government again you incredible morons.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is on the same page, telling reporters yesterday, “Let me say it again: no more government shutdowns.”
That’s a heartening declaration, but it’s not at all clear that the Republican leader will be able to follow through.
Yesterday, for example, Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate, joined far-right voices insisting that Republicans pursue a government shutdown to force Democrats to defund Planned Parenthood. As the Phoenix New Times reported, Trump wasn’t the only one.
Arizona Senator John McCain was an outspoken critic of the 16-day October 2013 federal-government shutdown, vowing after it was over that it wouldn’t happen again. Seems he’s had a change of heart: he told NPR that he would support holding the 2016 federal-spending bill hostage over this funding issue.“I don’t like a government shutdown, but this [Planned Parenthood controversy] is a clear case of totally improper use of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
If reality still matters, McCain is completely wrong on the facts. Planned Parenthood is facilitating fetal-tissue research, which a senator by the name of John McCain voted to authorize 22 years ago. The Arizona Republican, in other words, is ready to shut down the government over funding for medical research that he personally helped approve.
The battle lines are already being drawn. A variety of far-right senators, including the GOP presidential candidates in the chamber, are ready to pursue a shutdown strategy, and they’re joined by conservative colleagues like McCain who are terrified of primary challengers.
On the other hand, there are vulnerable, purple-state GOP incumbents like Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) who are desperate to avoid a shutdown, fearing a public backlash in next year’s elections that could sweep them out of office.
Republicans can’t even agree among themselves about whether government shutdowns are politically dangerous.
If all of this sounds familiar, we saw an eerily similar fight in the summer of 2013, right before GOP lawmakers did, in fact, shut down the government. The issue two years ago was ostensibly the Affordable Care Act, and this time it’s Planned Parenthood, but the dynamic is otherwise identical.
That includes, by the way, cheerleading from prominent media Republicans – Sean Hannity joined Erick Erickson yesterday in calling for a shutdown – and it includes the public siding with Democrats before the fight even begins in earnest. Not only does recent polling suggest Planned Parenthood is quite popular with the American mainstream, but a Monmouth poll this week found most of the public opposes defunding the health care organization.
I don’t question Mitch McConnell’s sincerity – he clearly does not want a shutdown. I do question, however, how he intends to avoid one.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.