OPIOID SERIES:

Pence casts tiebreaking Senate procedural vote on funding for abortion providers

Vice President Pence on Thursday cast a tie-breaking procedural vote that allowed the Senate to move forward with an effort to nix an Obama-era rule that blocked states from defunding healthcare providers for political reasons. 

Pence appeared on the floor after a procedural vote stalled in a 50-50 tie, casting the 51st vote in favor.

Republican Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Family, friends mourn death of Barbara Bush MORE (Maine) joined all Democrats in voting against ending debate on the bill. 

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Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOvernight Health Care: GOP pushes stiff work requirements for food stamps | Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss to opioids | Republicans refuse to back vulnerable Dem's opioids bill | Dems offer new public option plan The Hill's Morning Report: Haley clashes with White House Johnny Isakson opens up about family's tragic loss MORE (R-Ga.), who has been recovering from two back surgeries and hasn't voted since Feb. 17, returned to the Senate to cast a vote, creating the tie that led to Pence’s vote. 

Leadership held the vote open for roughly an hour as they rounded up enough votes to move forward. A final vote on getting rid of the Obama-era rule could happen as early as Thursday afternoon. 

Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to roll back some Obama-era regulations with only a simple majority vote. 

Former President Obama's rule required that state and local governments distribute federal Title X funding for services related to contraception, fertility, pregnancy care and cervical cancer screenings to health providers, regardless of whether they also preform abortions. 

Democrats blasted Republicans for using Pence to break a tie on a procedural vote. 

As Republicans waited for Isakson to arrive, Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill Corker won’t campaign against Democrat running for Tennessee Senate seat MORE's office sent a note to reporters with the subject line: "What's going on with this Senate vote? The VP needs to break the tie & harm women's health." 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) criticized Pence’s tiebreaking vote, tweeting: “Just in case we didn't already have enough men making decisions on women's health.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDuckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd Maternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Senators press administration on mental health parity MORE (D-Wash.)—who sat on the Senate floor and waited for Pence to arrive—pledged that Democrats would spend Thursday afternoon speaking out against the GOP-effort. 

“They're pushing this resolution so hard today to the point where they bring the vice president to break a tie, it's safe to bet that Republicans are going to try to attach riders to take away Planned Parenthood funding in the spending bill for the rest of the year,” said Murray—the No. 3 Senate Democrat.

Lawmakers have until April 28 to fund the government. House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker House, Senate GOP compete for cash Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE (R-Wis.) signaled this week that House Republicans wouldn't try to tie a Planned Parenthood fight to the spending bill. 

Republicans argue that getting rid of the regulation gives states more flexibility and push's back against Obama-era regulatory overreach. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell32 male senators back Senate women's calls to change harassment rules Duckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd FreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker MORE (R-Ky.) argued that the Obama move hurt “local communities.”

“It substituted Washington's judgment for the needs of real people,” he said ahead of the vote. “This regulation is an unnecessary restriction on states that know their residents a lot better than the federal government.”

Pence last month cast the tiebreaking vote to confirm Betsy DeVos to lead the Education Department. Murkowski and Collins also joined all Democrats in opposing her nomination, necessitating the tiebreaker.

Prior to that, the last time a vice president broke a tie in the Senate was 2008, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney voted on tax legislation.