Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRepublicans make M investment in Senate races Pelosi urges end to Pentagon's clawback of soldier overpayments Coffman’s stance on climate change disingenuous, irresponsible MORE started a fast-track process Friday on legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding in the wake of two controversial videos showing officials discussing delivery of fetal parts.
Speaking from the Senate floor, the Republican leader began "Rule 14," which will let the legislation skip the committee process and be placed on the Senate calendar so it can be brought up for a vote.
The move comes after Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Webb: The race to 270 Potential Cruz challenger: 'Don't close off your options' MORE (R-Texas) slammed McConnell during a blistering floor speech earlier Friday, suggesting the Kentucky Republican wanted to dodge a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.
"There are a host of amendments that the American people are focused on, things like defunding Planned Parenthood after the gruesome video,” Cruz said. “The majority leader doesn't want to vote on that. That's actually something the American people are focused on."
Cruz and Sen. 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 (R-Ky.), both of whom are running for president in 2016, as well as Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeDonald Trump's Mormon PR problem Trump's big worry isn't rigged elections, it's GOP establishment GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Utah), were hoping to use the the Senate's long-term highway bill as their vehicle to defund the agency.
McConnell appeared to dash those hopes Friday morning when he used the procedural tactic known as "filling the tree," a move meant to block further amendment votes.
A spokesman for Lee told The Hill at the time that a Planned Parenthood amendment would not be considered germane — blocking it from being attached to the highway bill.
Paul's presidential campaign quickly claimed credit for the legislation skipping over the committee process, suggesting the 2016 contender was actually behind the fast-track process that McConnell teed up on the Senate floor.
"Sen. Paul started the fast-track process, Senate Majority Leader McConnell read it on the floor," a campaign staffer said in an email to The Hill.
Separately, Paul said in a statement sent out by his campaign that "since the inhumane acts of Planned Parenthood have surfaced, I have vowed to defeat and defund this taxpayer-funded organization. ... Today, I implemented Rule 14 and fast-tracked legislation to strip every dollar of Planned Parenthood funding."
A spokesperson for McConnell — pointing to a transcript of Friday's floor proceedings — said that "the Leader started the Rule 14 process on the floor which makes the bill available for consideration."
The organization is back in Republican crosshairs after two videos were recently released showing Planned Parenthood officials talking about the preservation of fetal tissue and the cost of saving and distributing the tissue.
The Department of Justice said earlier this week that it's reviewing the two videos, and information surrounding them, to decide what steps, if any, need to be taken.
Meanwhile, 50 senators, including Joe ManchinJoe Manchin5 takeaways from the Pa. Senate debate Trump questions hound endangered Republican Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions MORE (D-W.Va.), sent a letter to Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell that called on her department to "fully cooperate" with the congressional investigations.
The legislation McConnell is fast-tracking was introduced earlier Friday by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is running for president.
- Updated at 3:40 p.m. Saturday.