Senate passes trafficking bill 99-0, ending long abortion fight

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.”

ADVERTISEMENT
But it was the bill’s language on abortion that received the lion’s share of attention in a floor battle that began in March.

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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee 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 Joseph LeahySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Budget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending Kavanaugh paper chase heats up 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 CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyOvernight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Congress should build upon the ABLE Act, giving more Americans with disabilities access to financial tools MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Fed chief lays out risks of trade war MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas 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 MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Top Dems urge Trump officials to reverse suspension of ObamaCare payments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families 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 Jean KlobucharGOP seeks separation from Trump on Russia Hillicon Valley: EU hits Google with record B fine | Trump tries to clarify Russia remarks | Sinclair changing deal to win over FCC | Election security bill gets traction | Robocall firm exposed voter data Election security bill picks up new support in Senate 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 Mason ReidSenate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Don’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick 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 GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas) said. “But it's undeniable that we've made discernable, concrete progress on important matters.”