House Republicans Drop Abortion Bill Vote At Last Minute, And It Was Smart Politics To Do So

The House was set to vote on a ban on abortion after 20 weeks that never would have become law today but they pulled the bill. Conservatives are annoyed, but it was smart politics in the long run.

Fighting Elephants Two

If things had gone according to plan, the Republican controlled House of Representatives would have been voting today on a bill that would have purported to ban abortion after 20 weeks throughout the United States, in no small part to coincide with the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and the annual “March for Life” which is occurring today in Washington, D.C. as it has nearly every year since the first anniversary of the Court’s decision in 1974. Instead, however, that bill was pulled at the last minute and replaced with something far more milquetoast, and conservatives aren’t very happy about it:

House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation’s restrictive language would once again spoil the party’s chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.

In recent days, as many as two dozen Republicans had raised concerns with the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Sponsors said that exceptions would be allowed for a woman who is raped, but she could only get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement.

A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life, a gathering that brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists to Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.

The House will vote instead Thursday on a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions — a more innocuous anti-abortion measure that the Republican-controlled chamber has passed before.

A senior GOP aide said that concerns had been raised “by men and women Members that still need to be worked out.” The aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the plans, said in an e-mail that Thursday’s vote will help “advance the pro-life cause” and that GOP leaders “remain committed to continue working through the process [on the Pain Capable bill] to make sure it too is successful.”

Other aides said that leaders were eager to avoid political fallout from a large number of female Republicans voting against an abortion bill in the early stages of the new GOP-controlled Congress.

The dispute erupted into the open in recent days and once again demonstrated the changing contours of the expanded House Republican caucus. The 246-member caucus is seeing rifts on issues where it once had more unity. That’s because there are now more moderate Republicans from swing districts who could face tough reelections in 2016 when more Democratic and independent voters are expected to vote in the presidential election.

Already this month, a large bloc of moderate Republicans voted against a spending bill that would repeal President Obama’s changes to immigration policy enacted by executive action. More than two dozen Republicans from metropolitan areas with large immigrant populations also voted against an amendment to the bill that would end temporary legal protections to the children of illegal immigrants.

The abortion bill pulled Wednesday night was strongly opposed by Democrats and women’s rights groups. But a similar version of the bill easily passed the GOP-controlled House in 2013 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had vowed to bring it up for a vote.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the bill’s lead sponsor, had predicted Wednesday that his proposal would easily pass because it “has overwhelming support among the American people.”

But Ellmers and Walorski had withdrawn their support and voiced concerns during meetings at the annual Republican policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. Ellmers did so again Wednesday at a closed-door House GOP meeting in the basement of the Capitol, according to several people who attended.

Seeking to rebut growing criticism from conservatives, Ellmers said on Facebook Wednesday evening that she would vote for the bill: “I have and will continue to be a strong defender of the prolife community,” she wrote.

But she had recently asked leaders to reconsider holding the vote, noting that Republicans had faced harsh criticism from Democrats in recent years for mounting a “war on women” by passing restrictive abortion legislation and other similar bills.

“The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them],” she said in an interview with National Journal.

Not surprisingly, this last minute decision to back away from a vote that had been touted for weeks by many Members of Congress, and which had been included among the pieces of legislation that Republicans would put up for a vote soon after gaining control of Congress, has not sat well with activist conservatives or conservatives in the blogosphere. Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist called the last minute decision an example of “incompetence and cowardice on the part of House Republicans. Hemingway’s colleague David Harsanyi called it an example of “tragically incompetent politics.” Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller called the move “incredibly stupid,” especially since it occurred on the last minute just prior to a major anti-abortion march and in the end will accomplish little other than to embolden opponents and disappoint supporters. A writer at National Review called the decision “shameful,” especially considering that the House had passed a similar bill in the past, although it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Finally, Red State called the decision a win for politics over principle, and obviously doesn’t consider that a good thing.

To be honest, it’s somewhat odd to see this much consternation over a bill that was never going to become law to begin with. Even if it had passed the House, there was virtually no chance that the bill would be able to garner the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate, indeed it’s unclear if the bill would have received unanimous support among the members of the Senate GOP Caucus even on a cloture vote. If it somehow did make it through the Senate, the bill would face a certain veto from the President that quite obviously would not be overridden in either chamber of Congress. In essence, then, these conservatives were asking Republicans to put their necks out on a bill that had no chance of becoming law any time in the next two years, and probably wouldn’t become law at any point after that unless the Republican Party managed to win the White House and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. That seems like a huge political ask for something that is essentially nothing more than a sop to the activist conservative win of the GOP and which may or may no even be Constitutional.

The interesting thing about how all of this went down, of course, is that it was an internal dispute inside what has been until now a united and solidly conservative Republican House Caucus that ended up being the death knell for the bill. A year ago, it’s unlikely that we would have seen this happen but now that the GOP Caucus is larger and includes more members from districts that are likely to be competitive in General Elections in 2016 and the years going forward, this may be a sign that we are likely to see some more open dissents from the idea that the Republican Caucus is under the control of the hard-right Tea Party base of the GOP. In this case, the concern appears to boil down to the idea that the exceptions for rape and incest in the bill, which are limited to cases that are actually reported to authorities, are too restrictive and that this is likely to cause problems for members with female and millenial voters for whom the GOP is already too extreme when it comes to social issues. Emphasizing that point by making this bill such a prominent part of the legislative agenda would have done nothing but hand political ammunition to Democrats. So, while this move is angering the pro-life crowd in the short run, it strikes me that avoiding needless political harm over a bill that will never become law is the smart thing to do.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    So the party of small government remains focused on controlling women’s bodies and taking private land for pipelines. Imagine how intrusive they would be if they believed in big government.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    They need to wait for Butters to define legitimate rape. Then they’ll be good to go.
    More small Government types imposing big Government on people.
    Nothing new here…just keep moving…

  3. humanoid.panda says:

    @C. Clavin: Their problem is twofold
    a. They concede the need for SOME rape exception.
    b. They are convinced that women who need abortions are lying sluts, and their word cannot be trusted.

    Can’t square that circle.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    On a related topic; there is a NJ Assemblywoman proposing legislation to ban incest.
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/nj-lawmaker-plans-to-introduce-anti-incest-bill.html
    Given the Republican track record, I got $20 says she is doing her son…or some other close relative.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    The things Republicans believe in do not mesh with reality. The result of a bill like this passing and becoming law would be chaos, criminality, dead women, and a sudden virulent politicization of an issue that would kill the GOP.

    Republicanism and reality are not friends. Ask Sam Brownback about that, the bumpkin. He starts off cutting taxes because. . . magic! Surprising no sane person, the magic doesn’t work. (Again it doesn’t work. Hmmm.) So now Brownback is jacking up taxes on poor people to recover from his clueless foray into practice-what-you-preach.

    They preach one thing, but when the rubber hits the road, all the Republicans ever really do is screw the little guy. At that they’re geniuses. The sun rises in the east, Republicans screw working people. Never fails.

    Smart Republican voters understand that Republican ideology and positions and policies are all just a load of bulls-it no one is supposed to take seriously. Tea Party folk, being concentrated on the left-hand side of the IQ bell curve, actually believe the b.s. Every year they run at that football, and every year reality yanks it away, and as they lie there stunned on the field, it still never gets through their teeny, tiny little heads that they’re being used.

    Hey, Tea Party dummies: your GOP overlords don’t give a damn about your issues because your issues are stupid. They only care about making the rich richer. You fools are just tools the bosses use to funnel more money into the pockets of billionaires.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    You can witness the handwringing over at TAC. A lot of whinging about “respect for the innocent unborn”, not a peep about respect for the woman whose body is being used as the life-support system.

    Feh.

  7. edmondo says:

    making this bill such a prominent part of the legislative agenda would have done nothing but hand political ammunition to Democrats.

    too late. Any rational person who would even consider voting for a Republican president in 2016 just had a chill go down the back of their spine. The GOP is still being held hostage by the religious right. Ergo, no one can vote for them.

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    This was theater and the Republicans got burned by it. it was a bone tossed to the social cons in a situation where the Republicans knew it would never become law (even with a Republican President, SCOTUS might strike it down either on privacy grounds or federalist grounds). The weird thing about abortion politics is that the Republicans desperately need Roe to be the law of the land. If it were ever overturned, they would actually have to carry out their pro-life agenda and would be in real trouble.

  9. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    To be honest, it’s somewhat odd to see this much consternation over a bill that was never going to become law to begin with.

    Then you clearly missed the reaction from the Republican base to Boehner saying that he wasn’t going to offer a vote to repeal Obamacare for the 10th time. Or the 20th time. Or the 30th time. Or the 40th time. Or the 50th time.

    Republicans just really enjoy to vote about things! Because then they can put it in their reelection ads. So Boehner changed his mind every time.

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The TAC crowd are also convinced that having only two children is an act of nihilistic individualism. There’s something genuinely alarming in their insistence that at some point in human history being such an a-hole was highly regarded.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    Well at least we are seeing proof of the Republicans ability to govern.

  12. Bokonon says:

    @michael reynolds: And yet … the voters of Kansas just returned Sam Brownback to office … despite a pretty clear record of failed policies, poor economic growth, and a spiraling fiscal crisis.

    Actually, the voters all over the nation kind of just did the same thing in the last election that regarding the GOP, at both the federal and state levels. They doubled down and rewarded them with more power.

    You are talking about rational stuff, and the things that voters SHOULD realize and SHOULD do. But that’s not the conversation the nation is having, and that’s not the way voters are actually behaving. Quite the opposite … the Tea Party seems to be setting the agenda, and everyone else is just reacting.

  13. humanoid.panda says:

    @Bokonon:

    You are talking about rational stuff, and the things that voters SHOULD realize and SHOULD do. But that’s not the conversation the nation is having, and that’s not the way voters are actually behaving. Quite the opposite … the Tea Party seems to be setting the agenda, and everyone else is just reacting.

    Look, the GOP did win the election, and that sucks, but let’s not overdo it- since their 2011 “triumph” national level Tea Partiers achieved less than nothing both in terms of agenda setting and legislative achievement. Nothing will change in the next couple of years, as the GOP will do everything it can to keep them in the basement in the run up to a presidential election.

    The states, were most elections are on midterm years, are a totally different business…

  14. al-Ameda says:

    Seeking to rebut growing criticism from conservatives, Ellmers said on Facebook Wednesday evening that she would vote for the bill: “I have and will continue to be a strong defender of the prolife community,” she wrote. But she had recently asked leaders to reconsider holding the vote, noting that Republicans had faced harsh criticism from Democrats in recent years for mounting a “war on women” by passing restrictive abortion legislation and other similar bills.

    “The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them],”

    two things:
    (1) Speaking as a father of 2 college graduate millennial daughters, I can tell you that, in addition to finding their way into career paths that are meaningful, they are very concerned about social issues. This isn’t a binary concern to them – e.g., jobs and nothing else matters. Women’s reproductive rights matter to both of them.

    (2) Doug is right, it was Politics 101 that ruled the day here – completely expected. That said, I for one, would like to see this come to a vote in House and in the Senate, let’s see where people stand.

  15. Gustopher says:

    A year ago, it’s unlikely that we would have seen this happen but now that the GOP Caucus is larger and includes more members from districts that are likely to be competitive in General Elections in 2016 and the years going forward, this may be a sign that we are likely to see some more open dissents from the idea that the Republican Caucus is under the control of the hard-right Tea Party base of the GOP. In this case, the concern appears to boil down to the idea that the exceptions for rape and incest in the bill, which are limited to cases that are actually reported to authorities, are too restrictive

    I’m not sure whether the Republicans splitting on whether a bill should be very restrictive and very very restrictive bodes well. The reporting requirement would have been viewed as extreme a decade ago, and is now supported by half the party or so.

  16. jukeboxgrad says:

    You fools are just tools the bosses use

    What you said as a poster.

  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: On the other hand, jacking up taxes on the poor is consistent with conservative/libertarian philosophy for 2 reasons:

    1. The poor “don’t pay their share” of the cost of serving capital government, so their taxes should be raised,
    2. Increasing taxes on the poor has no deleterious effects on the economy as the poor are not investing their surplus income as creators of wealth. It’s right, salutary, and effective for government to appropriate this, otherwise wasted, wealth so that it can be put to better use.

    See? No inconsistency at all!

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m not sure whether the Republicans splitting on whether a bill should be very restrictive and very very restrictive bodes well. The reporting requirement would have been viewed as extreme a decade ago, and is now supported by half the party or so.

    From what I can tell, they split on the optics of this being their first vote of any consequence in this session. Ellmers wasn’t concerned about the content of the bill – she was concerned about the GOP looking bad because they made it the first item on the agenda.

    As Hal said, it’s all theater.

  19. humanoid.panda says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Of course, now she guaranteed that when this POS is back on the agenda, there will an intense media on it.

  20. stonetools says:

    The problem with these bills is that they make for great symbols that you can use to show the anti abortion rights side that you are serious about “protecting the rights of the unborn.” However, they make for terrible policy, which becomes obvious when you put it up for debate and the public focuses on it. A rape victim gives up her right to have the rapist’s fetus aborted unless she reports it to the police? Seriously? The whole issue of policing whether these are “legitimate” reports of rape or not would be a bag of hurt.
    And then there are the penalties (hat tip to the LGM blog). If second trimester abortions are “murder”, why aren’t we charging the women with homicide? Why is the penalty for those who violate the laws “only” five years?
    It’s not surprising, really, that the Republicans don’t want to defed and debate these provisions, now or at any time. I predict that we will hear no more about these bills until the next House Congressional election season.

  21. Rick DeMent says:

    @stonetools:

    And then there are the penalties (hat tip to the LGM blog). If second trimester abortions are “murder”, why aren’t we charging the women with homicide? Why is the penalty for those who violate the laws “only” five years?

    Because if they really treated abortion like actual murder then no one in their right mind would support them.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Rick DeMent: Which is also the only reason they grudgingly allow an exemption for “legitimate” rape.

  23. KM says:

    In essence, then, these conservatives were asking Republicans to put their necks out on a bill that had no chance of becoming law

    Yep. It’s now put up or shut up.

    Congrats Repubs, you won the election – now you have to pass laws! Laws the crazy people who elected you want to see happen. You promised them and now the bill’s come due. You are a means to an end to them, just like you thought they were for you. You wanted them for their votes & money and hoped to get away without following up on any real action that could put you at risk. They think of you as the physical pawn to enact their will in Congress, eminently replaceable when you don’t jump on command. Dance, monkey, dance!!

    Time to chose a side, Repubs – are you down with the crazy or do you live in the real world? They expect some serious results now that they are “in control”. You can’t tap dance on the wire forever…. especially if they’re taking shots at you from both sides.

  24. grumpy realist says:

    @Rick DeMent: The other problem is that they’d have to explain why miscarriage shouldn’t be treated as accidental manslaughter. Or, if you’re a woman who knows she has trouble carrying to term, negligent homicide.

  25. Rob Prather says:

    Republicans need to quit talking about rape. They have too many knuckle draggers in their party with retrograde views. The more Democrats keep them talking about rape, the more trouble they will have. Oh, wait: I want that!

  26. Console says:

    It isn’t merely political ammunition for Democrats. For a great amount of pro-lifers, the support is very shallow. It’s easy to talk about abortion in the abstract and try to sound like a nuanced and sophisticated thinker by moving abortion to some philosophical talk about “when life begins.”

    But that’s never been the reality of what logical pro-life consistency entails. Whether or not life begins at conception is immaterial. Enforcing pro-life laws requires radical steps that completely upturn our intuitions.