Senate Republicans Sneak Abortion Stuff Into Human Trafficking Bill, Why Not?
This week, the Senate tried to do something unusual -- they tried to tee up a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Justice For Victims of Human Trafficking Act. Because who could be against that? Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had hoped to bring the bill to the floor to smooth over the bad feelings he caused when he hinted last week that the Senate was going to vote on a bill to let the Senate be President of Everything Related to Iran. Democrats threatened to filibuster, so McConnell, already sick of being filibustered and embarrassed by Democrats, decided to cut his losses and bring up the bipartisan human trafficking bill instead. That would have been lovely, if it hadn't imploded. Leadership is so hard, you guys.
After voting on Monday to bring the trafficking bill to the floor, Democrats noticed some anti-abortion language in the bill they hadn't previously been aware of. And although the bill had been voted unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, no one had really discussed that anti-abortion part of it. Republican staffers who had written a memo for Democrats about this year's version of the bill, similar to a version last year, somehow forgot to mention this new minor addition.
And Democratic senators and staffers didn't notice the provision in the bill either, because apparently they just skimmed the memo instead of reading the actual bill. They're claiming they were misled, even though they probably can still read -- you guys, we love you, but damn. So now this bill, including its anti-abortion provision, has been passed out of Committee, by all of the votes, but Democrats are furiously vowing to fight it on the Senate floor. Nice bipartisanship, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- you got Democrats to oppose a bill on human sex trafficking!
The language at issue is similar to an amendment called the Hyde Amendment, which has been attached to federal spending bills for decades, and which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions. But by attaching it to this trafficking bill, Democrats contend that Republicans are trying to expand the Hyde Amendment's scope. Stealthily! Politico writes:
Democrats said they were assured the abortion language would not be in the bill. They said they had informed [Sen.] Cornyn last year that they had major issues with attempts to add the language, viewing it as an expansion of abortion restrictions given that the restitution fund’s coffers are filled by money from fines, not taxpayers.
Okay, cool, let's expand the Hyde restrictions and just not tell anyone! Democrats will probably never even notice, until they do. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said:
You can blame it on staff, blame it on whoever you want to blame it on, but we didn't know it was in the bill. The bill will not come off this floor as long as that language is in the bill.
You know what? Let's blame it on Mitch McConnell. He's been the Senate Majority Leader for about two and a half months now, and while we imagine it's a steep learning curve, the guy isn't exactly a newbie in the Senate. He was the Minority Leader for eight years, so he probably has a clue about how things work. So we have to wonder whether he's purposely trying to ruin any chances of bipartisanship he might have had. Sinking a bill on human trafficking by sneaking in a provision he knows is unacceptable? Really? Or maybe he's honestly trying and failing. We think we probably know the answer to that (it is that he's trying to ruin everything).