Conservatives prepare to make stand on Planned Parenthood

Greg Nash

The make-or-break moment for House conservatives to defund Planned Parenthood is here.

Outraged by undercover videos on fetal tissue donation, conservatives are pushing to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood as part of legislation that would avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, spearheaded a letter to House GOP leaders shortly before lawmakers' August recess that stated he and 17 other Republicans would not vote for any spending bill that continues funding for Planned Parenthood.

But with Congress set to return to Washington this week, it remains to be seen whether Mulvaney and his allies can gather enough support to force the hand of leadership.

Rep. Diane BlackDiane BlackIvanka sells Trump childcare to Capitol Hill Trump calls congresswoman to stage at child care policy speech Overnight Healthcare: Zika funding stalemate drags on | Tighter rules for ObamaCare sign-ups | New EpiPen probe MORE (R-Tenn.), who has written legislation that would freeze Planned Parenthood funding for one year while Congress conducts an investigation into its fetal tissue program, says she doesn't support using the government funding bill as the only leverage in the fight. Another option, for instance, could be attaching a measure to defund the organization to a reconciliation bill to repeal ObamaCare that would only need 51 votes in the Senate.

Black said she has secured a “commitment” from House GOP leadership that her bill will get a floor vote in the coming weeks, according to her spokesman.

“I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit and intent of my friend, Congressman Mulvaney’s letter,” Black said in a statement provided to The Hill. “The sad truth, however, is that President Obama is likely to veto any measure that combats funding of his political allies at Planned Parenthood.”

“I believe we must consider how to most effectively wage this battle while acknowledging our current political realities, positioning our movement for long-term success, and avoiding a government shutdown — which would not defund Planned Parenthood and would only embolden our radically pro-abortion president,” she added.

Mulvaney spokeswoman Stephanie Faile declined to specify the new total number of signatures on the letter, but said a “final count” would likely be released this week.

The letter would likely need to attract far more signatures to pose any real danger to passage of the stopgap funding bill that is expected on the House floor this month. At least one other Republican, Rep. Dave Brat (Va.), has added his signature to the letter over the August recess.

Still, 19 pledges falls short of the maximum number of defections GOP leaders can afford without needing help from Democrats to pass a spending bill. Assuming all 246 House Republicans are present to vote, GOP leaders can lose up to 28 of their members and still pass legislation on their own.

Ahead of the last government shutdown in 2013, 80 House Republicans had signed onto a letter pushing GOP leaders to defund ObamaCare.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) has been trying to lower expectations about trying to defund Planned Parenthood, saying last week that Republicans would have to wait for Obama’s successor in the White House.

“The president’s made it very clear he’s not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that’s another issue that awaits a new president, hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood,” McConnell said on the Kentucky station WYMT’s “Issues and Answers.”

That argument is unlikely to sit well with conservatives eager for a confrontation.

“Establishment Rs say, "Wait till we have a GOP pres." If that happens, they'll say, "Wait till we have a filibuster-proof majority."#excuses,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashLawmakers press Lynch for briefing on Yahoo secret email scanning reports House Freedom Caucus member slows floor business House votes to block Gitmo transfers MORE (R-Mich.) wrote on Twitter.

And four GOP presidential contenders in the Senate — Ted CruzTed CruzIs Georgia turning blue? Five takeaways from money race Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE (Texas), Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida Republicans, it's time to stop asking 'What would Reagan do?' MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (Ky.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamHigh anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ Five takeaways from final debate MORE (S.C.) — have said Congress should defund Planned Parenthood, likely making life harder for McConnell this month. Graham has said he doesn’t support forcing a shutdown over the issue.

Cruz, for his part, plans to send a letter to McConnell urging him not to schedule a vote on legislation that continues to fund Planned Parenthood.

“In light of recent and horrific revelations that Planned Parenthood is trafficking in fetal tissue and body parts from abortions, we urge you not to schedule or facilitate the consideration of any legislation that authorizes or appropriates federal dollars for Planned Parenthood," a draft of Cruz’s letter reads.

Aside from the funding fight, both the House and Senate will soon be debating resolutions to disapprove of the Iran nuclear deal, making it unlikely either chamber will have immediate floor time to address Planned Parenthood.

But the next steps are likely to be a hot topic on Wednesday morning, when House Republicans gather for their first conference meeting since the August recess.

- This story was updated at 9:52 a.m.