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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 LeahyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Your tax dollars fund Afghan child rape 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 CaseyThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Dems look to use Moore against GOP MORE Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries 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 MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 KlobucharFranken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics 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 ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama 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 CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (R-Texas) said. “But it's undeniable that we've made discernable, concrete progress on important matters.”