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.”

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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 McConnellMitch McConnellTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Confirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma 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 LeahyPassing US-Canada preclearance would improve security and economy GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Senate Dems pan talk of short-term spending bill 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 CaseySenate passes college anti-Semitism bill Dem senator to Trump: Reject Syria deal with Putin, Assad Vulnerable Dems ready to work with Trump MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyTrump’s vow on Medicare in doubt after HHS choice Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Red-state Democrat: I'll oppose Trump's health chief MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Trump meets with Dem senator amid Cabinet speculation Overnight Energy: Walden wins Energy gavel | Trump looks at Dems to head Energy, Interior 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 MurrayOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Senate Dems: Force Cabinet nominees to release tax returns Dems press Trump to keep Obama overtime rule 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 KlobucharThe Hill's 12:30 Report GOP wants to move fast on Sessions Dem senator: Kate McKinnon told me to ‘stay strong’ after Trump win 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 ReidDemocrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington 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 CornynLawmakers eye early exit from Washington Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR Overnight Cybersecurity: Last-ditch effort to stop expanded hacking powers fails MORE (R-Texas) said. “But it's undeniable that we've made discernable, concrete progress on important matters.”