The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation aimed at curbing human trafficking, ending a monthlong fight over abortion that bitterly divided the parties and held up attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.
The legislation, which was approved 99-0, would create a special fund to help victims of sex crimes, bolstering efforts to combat what advocates decry as “modern-day slavery.”
Democrats repeatedly blocked an earlier version of the proposal, arguing it would create an expansion of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal funds for abortions.
The deal that resolved the stalemate requires money for the victims’ fund to come from two sources: criminal fines and money that Congress previously appropriated.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStudy: Trump tops recent GOP presidents in signing bills in first 100 days Senate passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown Let’s never talk about a government shutdown — ever again MORE (R-Ky.) touted the vote as a win for Republicans and anti-abortion groups, saying that under the agreement, the trafficking legislation “won’t violate longstanding, bipartisan Hyde precedent.”
Republicans also shot down a last-ditch effort by Democrats to strip the abortion provisions from the legislation, which if successful would likely have killed the bill.
Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyThe Hill's 12:30 Report Lawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Poll: Sanders most popular senator in the US MORE (D-Vt.) urged his colleagues to remove “the divisive language that limits victims services and has held us up for so long."
"Congress has a long history of passing legislation to address human trafficking," he said. "We've consistently done so without abortion politics being in the discussion."
But Leahy was ultimately unsuccessful, with Democratic Sens. Bob CaseyBob CaseyDems struggle with abortion litmus test Dems crowd primaries to challenge GOP reps GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyDems struggle with abortion litmus test What prospective college students need to know before they go — or owe Battle begins over Wall Street rules MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinDems struggle with abortion litmus test Senators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Congress nears deal on help for miners MORE (W.Va.) voting against him.
But Democrats also claimed victory in the abortion fight, arguing that they blocked a Republican attempt to expand the abortion restrictions to private funding.
“We started this fight against a bill that applied Hyde to non-taxpayer dollars for the first time and brought in no real money for trafficking victims,” a Democratic aide said. “We’re now in a much better place.”
Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate confirms Labor Secretary Acosta Dems unveil bill targeting LGBT harassment on college campuses Trump said he would create ‘more jobs and better wages’ — he can start with federal contractors MORE (D-Wash.) also touted the agreement, saying Democrats were able to “reach a deal that gets this done in a way that does not expand restrictions on women’s health to non-taxpayer dollars or to new programs.”
The trafficking legislation was expected to be an opportunity for bipartisanship in the Senate after the divisive fight over illegal immigration and funding the Department of Homeland Security. But Democrats said Republicans hoodwinked by including the abortion provision in the trafficking legislation.
Republicans denied hiding the language, and the office of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDem labels infrastructure ‘top thing’ Trump can accomplish Wyden pushing to mandate 'basic cybersecurity' for Senate Senators press the FCC on rural broadband affordability MORE’s (D-Minn.), one of the sponsors, admitted that an aide knew the it was in the bill.
The fight over abortion funding quickly turned into a heated rhetorical battle, galvanizing outside groups and providing fodder for attacks on senators running for reelection in 2016.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, praised the final legislation.
“This deal ensures no money in the fund is used for abortion and that any funding for health services is subject to the longstanding Hyde Amendment,” she said. “This entire incident has revealed what pro-lifers have long known to be the case: the Democratic Party is entirely beholden to the abortion industry.”
Pro-abortion rights organizations vowed to keep up the fight.
Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said that even with the deal, “trafficking survivors will still face unconscionable restrictions to accessing the reproductive health services they need.”
“We commend Senators Harry ReidHarry ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE [D-Nev.] and Patty Murray and every senator who stood strong for women’s health,” she said in a statement. “We pledge to continue this fight. The Hyde Amendment is callous, punishing and discriminatory and it must be repealed.”
In addition, Wednesday’s vote paves the way for a vote on Lynch’s nomination, potentially as early as Thursday.
Republicans touted passage of the bill as another sign that they are getting the Senate back to work.
"None of us are spiking the football or saying we've done miraculous things,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' McConnell: Senate will pass short-term funding bill to avoid shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Texas) said. “But it's undeniable that we've made discernable, concrete progress on important matters.”