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How Citibank ended up as the Republicans’ newest corporate target

Citibank said it would cover the travel expenses for employees who have to leave their home state to seek an abortion. Many Republicans aren't pleased.


Republican efforts to bully corporations into submission have become more common of late, but a rather dramatic example of the phenomenon came to public light a couple of months ago. Citibank, one of the nation’s largest banks, said it would cover the travel expenses for employees who have to leave their home state to seek an abortion, and a Republican legislator in Texas said that wouldn’t do.

In fact, as The New York Times reported, Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain announced plans to prevent Citibank from underwriting municipal bonds in the Lone Star State unless it rescinded the policy. Cain added at the time that he’d sent a cease-and-desist letter to the bank’s chief executive, calling the policy a “misuse of shareholder money.”

And while that seemed like a rather extreme example of a GOP official trying to use government policy to force a corporation to change a health care benefit, Citibank’s policy has not gone unnoticed on Capitol Hill.

CBS News reported last month that Citi provides credit cards to members of Congress to pay for expenses such as flights and office supplies. But because of the bank’s abortion policy toward its own employees, 45 House Republicans urged House Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor to cancel the contract.

The conservative Washington Times had a related report on Senate Republicans following suit.

Several Senate Republicans called Friday for dropping Citibank as the Senate’s credit-card provider, citing the company’s decision to pay for employees to travel out of state to obtain abortions. Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican who chairs the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, led a letter asking Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson to “immediately terminate the U.S. Senate’s existing contracts with Citi and refrain from entering into any new contractual agreements with Citi.”

Daines’ letter was signed by eight other GOP senators: Indiana’s Mike Braun North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer, Mississippi’s Cindy Hyde-Smith, Oklahoma’s James Lankford, Kansas’ Roger Marshall, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Florida’s Rick Scott, and Mississippi’s Roger Wicker.

Collectively, the Republicans accused Citi of financing “abortion tourism.”

During a stockholders’ meeting last week, Citi CEO Jane Fraser fielded a question about this, explaining, “We know this is a subject that people feel passionate about. I want to be clear that this benefit isn’t intended to be a statement about a very sensitive issue. What we did here was follow our past practices.”

She added that the bank has “covered reproductive healthcare benefits for over 20 years. And our practice has also been to make sure our employees have the same health coverage, no matter where in the U.S. they live. So, to that end, we’ve had a practice of reimbursing travel for many years.... We respect everyone’s views on this subject.”

This probably will not satisfy the business’ critics on the right. Call it a hunch.

There’s little to suggest that the House or Senate will drop Citibank anytime soon, though if Republicans reclaim a majority in either chamber, it’s easy to imagine GOP leaders making a switch to satisfy the right.