Congress' Planned Parenthood Fight Complicated by Leadership Challenge

PHOTO: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio says Senate Democrats should "get off their ass" and pass a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department and restrict President Barack Obama's executive moves on immigration, Feb. 11, 2015, during a news conference following a GOP strategy meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

It could be a long September for House Speaker John Boehner.

The Ohio Republican must balance the demands of angry members who want to defund Planned Parenthood with the need to keep government funded beyond Sept. 30.

And he must do it against the backdrop of a looming threat to his speakership.

Republicans are upset about secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses, which Democrats and the organization claim are doctored and show no evidence of wrongdoing.

The House will also vote later this week on two Planned Parenthood-related bills: one from Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, to freeze federal funding for a year during congressional investigations, and another, from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, that targets medical providers that don’t extend services to babies that survive abortions.

But a growing number of Republicans want to link the issues of Planned Parenthood and government funding, saying they are willing to allow a partial shutdown of the government unless new funding is denied to the organization.

“Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go there, not another penny,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. “You have to use the power of the purse.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has called that effort an “exercise in futility,” given that Senate Democrats can block any effort to punish Planned Parenthood with a filibuster.

He told Politico last week that he would support a “clean” funding resolution that wouldn’t defund the organization.

Boehner would have to send the Senate a clean measure with the help of Democrats: 31 Republicans have signed onto a July 30 letter from Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, pledging opposition to any measure that doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood. The conservative House Freedom Caucus has also promised the same.

“He either has to make a bad deal with Democrats, or shut the government down,” said Franks, arguing that Senate Democrats should be held responsible for any shutdown.

Boehner’s political calculation is made riskier by a potential vote to depose him introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina.

Meadows, who filed a symbolic measure protesting Boehner’s leadership in July, has said he or another conservative could force a vote to replace Boehner if they’re unhappy with his leadership through the month. It’s unclear how such a vote would shake out.

Boehner, who is supported by the majority of the conference, has faced resistance from House conservatives in the past. He dismissed Meadows’ challenge last week.

“I have widespread support amongst my members,” he told reporters. “The goal here is not to shut down the government. The goal is to stop these horrific practices of organizations selling baby parts.”

The Planned Parenthood debate comes a week after the House voted to reject President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

The conference shifted its longstanding strategy of dealing with President Obama's agreement to contain Iran's nuclear program after members signaled support for a more aggressive positions advocated by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois. Instead of a single vote of disapproval, Republicans ended up taking three votes to reject the agreement, and left the door open to possible litigation.

“Our fight to stop this bad deal is frankly just beginning,” Boehner said on the House floor Friday.

Boehner and his team haven’t announced a strategy to avert a government shutdown, they're expected to do so this week, after his leadership team held listening sessions with members of the conference on Planned Parenthood.

“It has been indisputable that the conversation has included the widest range of views,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas. “I think everybody has been heard.”

After the Jewish holidays and Pope Francis’ visit, Boehner has just eight legislative days to unify his party around a Planned Parenthood strategy, and pivot to government funding.

Democrats want bipartisan long-term budget negotiations over lifting domestic and defense spending caps, in exchange for supporting a short-term continuing resolution Republicans anticipate passing.