Shutdown talk creeps into debate over Planned Parenthood funding

Greg Nash

Republican senators are tiptoeing around talk of a government shutdown in October after a failed vote Monday on defunding Planned Parenthood.

A group of conservatives in the House have already pledged not to vote for any government funding bill that includes Planned Parenthood, creating the potential for a high-stakes battle against the White House this fall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) has pledged that there will be no shutdowns on his watch, but Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzIs Georgia turning blue? Five takeaways from money race Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE (R-Texas) — a leading force behind the effort to defund ObamaCare in 2013 — is stirring the pot with talk of action.

“I believe we should use every and any procedural tool available to defund Planned Parenthood,” Cruz, who is running for president, told reporters before Monday’s 53-46 vote on defunding.

Asked if it would be worth shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood’s $528 million a year in federal funding, Cruz shifted the focus to Democrats.

“I think that is an excellent question for you to ask every Democrat, if they’re willing to try to shut down the government in order to force continued taxpayer funding for an organization that has now been caught on film apparently repeatedly admitting to multiple felonies in buying and selling body parts in direct contravention of federal criminal law,” Cruz said.

A handful of other Republican senators also signaled that they might not support a funding bill that includes Planned Parenthood.

“I would urge that we not include that [funding] in the bill,” Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Momentum builds for Clyburn poverty plan 'Hardball' Pentagon memo creates firestorm MORE (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill.

“I don’t think there will be [a shutdown],” Cochran added.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), asked if he could ever vote for a spending bill that includes Planned Parenthood funding, said: “I wouldn't think so, but you know, everything depends on how big the package is and what's there. We'll just have to see.”

The fight over Planned Parenthood funding, which was ignited by a series of undercover videos, is intensifying amid the race for the White House.

Besides Cruz, two other GOP presidential candidates — Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida Republicans, it's time to stop asking 'What would Reagan do?' MORE (R-Fla.) and 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.) — voted to defund Planned Parenthood on Monday.

The fourth GOP presidential candidate in the Senate, Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamHigh anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ Five takeaways from final debate MORE (R-S.C.), did not attend the vote because he was attending a campaign forum in New Hampshire.

Rubio and Paul echoed Cruz in suggesting that Democrats would be blamed if the government shut down.

“First of all, I don’t know how anyone can continue to justify funding an organization that’s been exposed the way it has,” Rubio said at a summit held over the weekend by the conservative donors Charles and David Koch. “I don’t think you need to shut down the government to do that. I think the question you should be asking is of the Democrats: Are you willing to shut down the government in order to defend Planned Parenthood as opposed to us being asked that way?”

On CNN on Sunday, Paul walked a fine line when asked if he would back a shutdown.

“I support any legislation that will defund Planned Parenthood. But I don't think you start out with your objective to shut down government. I mean, if President Obama wants to shut down government because he doesn't get funds for Planned Parenthood, that would be President Obama's determination to shut down government,” he said.

The White House has vowed that Obama will veto legislation that strips federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

The escalating battle could pose problems for vulnerable Republican senators in blue-leaning states facing competitive reelection races in 2016.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonGOP plan: Link Dems to an email scandal GOP senator: Dems making ‘concerted effort to produce fraudulent votes’ Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE (R-Wis.), who is facing a tough reelection fight, wouldn’t say whether he would vote for a bill that contains Planned Parenthood funding in September.

“That would be a hypothetical question. I’m not going to answer it,” he told The Hill.

Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanRepublican opposition to raising the minimum wage Is crumbling Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support GOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ohio), another incumbent facing reelection next year, said he’s “for defunding,” and then said “I don’t think anybody is talking about shutting down the government, but we want to defund Planned Parenthood, so we’ll see.”

Senate Democrats were mostly united Monday in protecting Planned Parenthood, with only Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump questions hound endangered Republican Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions Convicted ex-coal boss says he’s a ‘political prisoner’ MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel MORE (D-Ind.) defecting to vote with Republicans.

Manchin told reporters he was focused on the Monday vote, and said, “We’ll see how it comes out,” when asked about the next steps.

The Senate is scheduled to leave Capitol Hill for the August recess by the end of the week. The House, which left for its recess last week, did not vote on a bill to defund the group before leaving town.

When lawmakers return, they will not have much time to figure out a funding plan for the government and a strategy on Planned Parenthood before the Oct. 1 deadline.

A growing number of House conservatives are pushing to defund the organization in a government spending package in September. Eighteen of them sent a letter to House GOP leaders last week pledging to oppose any legislation that continues the funding, and that number could grow in the weeks ahead.

Conservative political blogger Erick Erickson, influential among Tea Party conservatives, has said the GOP should shut down the government if Planned Parenthood funding isn’t cut.

“I am worried about the fall,” said Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCain: Accepting election results is 'American way' GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Some in GOP say Trump has gone too far MORE (R-Ala.). “But I have not speculated about the future much.”