With a Supreme Court nomination coming as early as today, the Senate Judiciary Committee should theoretically be preparing for its most important responsibility. That’s not, however, what’s happening.
Last week, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee held a discussion about Judiciary Committee’s refusal to have discussion about a Supreme Court nomination that does not currently exist. Today, as Politico reported, the GOP-led panel is turning its attention to an abortion ban:
[Today’s] hearing in the Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is titled “Late-Term Abortion: Protecting Babies Born Alive and Capable of Feeling Pain.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the committee’s most senior Republicans, is the chief sponsor of legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a good reason for that: the Senate took up a proposed 20-week abortion ban last September and the bill was rejected. Everyone on both sides knew the legislation didn’t have the votes to pass, but Senate Republican leaders invested time and energy in it anyway.
Six months later, Chuck Grassley is holding a hearing in support of legislation that’s already failed and stands no chance of making a comeback in 2016.
As a substantive matter, as regular readers probably recall, the legislation itself is misguided. Because roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, these later terminations often involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health.” It’s why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is so strongly against legislation like this.
But the politics are also deeply problematic. Planned Parenthood’s Dawn Laguens said in a statement yesterday, “Apparently Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell are too busy playing doctor to uphold their constitutional duty to consider a Supreme Court nominee when named.”
This context matters. Senate Republicans are arguing that it’s simply too late to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, but it’s evidently not too late for Senate Republicans to invest time and energy in an abortion ban that was defeated six months ago.
It’s precisely why Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will go to the Senate floor today to argue, “While [Senate Republicans] say they won’t even hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities, they were eager to hold a hearing to attack women’s constitutional rights. They love to talk about the Constitution — unless we’re talking about a woman’s constitutional right to make decisions about her own body, or the part that lays out the Senate’s responsibilities when it comes to filling Supreme Court vacancies.”
Adding insult to injury, Grassley is also blocking confirmation of a leading HHS official as part of a culture-war tantrum.
Maybe putting the far-right Iowan in charge of the Judiciary Committee wasn’t such a good idea.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the Judiciary Committee’s hearing.