Republicans are divided over whether they should use this fall's government funding bill to attack Planned Parenthood -- and risk a high-stakes shutdown fight -- after Senate Democrats blocked a standalone bill to defund the organization on Monday evening. On one side is presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who's pushing Republicans to do everything within their power to strip the organization of federal support after Monday's bill failed to clear a filibuster, 53-46. But a group of veteran Republican legislators is urging a more cautious approach, and reminding GOP colleagues that just two years ago their fight to defund Obamacare via a government funding bill produced a disastrous shutdown without making a dent on the Affordable Care Act.
The Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood reached the Senate floor late yesterday afternoon, with a GOP bill to strip the health care organization of its federal funding. As expected, it failed at the hands of a Democratic filibuster, but an even more important fight is on the horizon.
The roll call on yesterday's vote is online here. Note, one Republican broke ranks and opposed the measure (Illinois' Mark Kirk), while two Democrats sided with the GOP majority (West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Indiana's Joe Donnelly). The final tally was technically 53-46, but that came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell switched from "yea" to "nay" for procedural reasons.
What arguably matters more at this point is what Republicans intend to do next. Politico reported overnight:
The prospect of a shutdown over Planned Parenthood is quite real. Indeed, the dominant, far-right voices in the party speak as if they practically have no choice -- the recently released, deceptively edited attack videos targeting the health care organization have so enraged the far-right that the GOP has already effectively committed itself to an angry confrontation.
But some in the Republican leadership seem to realize it's a confrontation that the party can't win.
Even if we put aside the fact that GOP lawmakers are talking openly about shutting down the government again -- a development that Democrats would put to good use in the 2016 elections -- Republicans are burdened by the fact that their talking points are literally unbelievable.
Watching the Senate floor debate yesterday afternoon, Republicans voted largely in lock step against Planned Parenthood, but the party struggled to explain why. The health care group hasn't done anything illegal, and the best GOP senators could do was complain about the rhetorical tone some Planned Parenthood officials used while discussing fetal-tissue research.
If Republicans see this as the basis for a credible government-shutdown strategy, they're setting themselves up for failure.
Complicating matters further, Planned Parenthood is a lot more popular than far-right officials seem to realize. MSNBC's Irin Carmon flagged the results of a new NBC News poll, which "found that Planned Parenthood had the highest favorability rating of any institution or politician in the poll. Though there is a partisan split -- 69% of Democrats view it positively, while 54% of Republicans view it negatively -- independents view it positively, 45%-25%."
In other words, congressional Republicans are on a crusade to gut a popular health care organization, whose only misdeed is participating in the very fetal-tissue research that congressional Republicans authorized and supported.
GOP lawmakers are picking a fight from a position of weakness.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to the controversial videos.