The prospect of a second government shutdown in two years is growing as House conservatives pledge to oppose any funding measure that includes money for Planned Parenthood.
GOP leaders face a familiar problem.
But Republicans in the House don't have enough GOP votes to approve a funding measure that continues funding for Planned Parenthood, and don't want to negotiate with Democrats.
Conservatives headed to their districts on Friday expressing certainty that they would force GOP leaders to include a hold on Planned Parenthood funding.
And as in past funding fights, they insisted it would be the Democrats and President Obama who would be blamed for a shutdown.
“Will the president shut down and defund the troops in order to fund Planned Parenthood?” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). “I don't think he's that politically stupid, but we shall see.”
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), another conservative, sounded a similar theme.
“I’ve seen too many times up here that a threat of a shutdown is why you compromise your principles, and I am sick and tired of compromising my principles,” he said.
The remarks from the lawmakers reflect the strong feelings among House conservatives.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus, with more than 40 members, on Thursday vowed to oppose any spending bill that includes Planned Parenthood funds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStates sue to block last-minute Obama environmental rule GOP senators introducing ObamaCare replacement Monday Senators introduce dueling miners bills MORE (R-Ky.) has been the leading Republican opponent of demands to link an end to Planned Parenthood’s funding with the government-funding measure.
On Friday in an interview with Politico, he sent the signal that Senate Republicans have had enough, calling the linkage “an exercise in futility” with President Obama in the White House.
“I’m anxious to defund Planned Parenthood,” McConnell said, before adding that “the honest answer of that is that’s not going to happen until you have a president who has a similar view.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is the only Republican in the upper chamber loudly calling for a showdown on the spending bill over Planned Parenthood, which has been targeted fiercely after the release of a series of undercover videos showing officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
Yet it is far from clear that McConnell’s view will sway conservatives in the House, who have viewed him with suspicion.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTop aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions An anti-government ideologue like Mulvaney shouldn't run OMB Boehner endorses DeVos for Education secretary MORE (R-Ohio), who is getting threats again on his leadership position, has been cautious in his remarks about the House GOP’s next steps.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Friday that the House will vote next week on a standalone bill to defund Planned Parenthood for one year while investigations take place.
But it is unclear that the step will appease conservatives, since the measure would be dead on arrival in the Senate.
Some conservatives on Friday said Boehner was in a familiar position.
“He either has to make a bad deal with Democrats or shut down the government. Those are his unfortunate options,” Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksDissenting nominees give hope to GOP skeptics of Trump Sexism in the USA: How will women fare under Trump? GOP lawmaker: Obama's Russian sanctions meant to 'delegitimize' Trump's election MORE (R-Ariz.) said after emerging from a closed-door meeting on Planned Parenthood with 40 to 50 other Republicans on Friday. “I think this can create a civil war in the House of Representatives.”
Boehner and McConnell also have the GOP presidential race to worry about.
When they return to Washington next week, they will have about two weeks to come up with a short-term solution. And on Wednesday, GOP presidential candidates, including Cruz, are sure to be asked about what should be done when they square off in a debate. It has the potential to complicate the leaders’ already difficult jobs.
“The American people should no longer be forced to fund the abortion industry; therefore we will oppose any government funding legislation that would authorize or provide federal funds for Planned Parenthood,” Cruz wrote in a letter circulated this week.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another presidential candidate, is also calling on GOP leaders to make a stand. “We should hold our ground,” he said on Thursday.
Outside groups are also turning up the heat. Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, said the standalone House defunding bill is “very important,” but is not enough.
“It is vital that the House register its stance on defunding Planned Parenthood with a meaningful vote,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement. “No one should feel comfortable affixing his or her name to a budget that prolongs this atrocity.”
Other Republicans, like McConnell, want to avoid any repeat of the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 that hurt their party. Their hope is that cooler heads will prevail.
“If you really want to solve the problem, get a pro-life president in 18 months,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) “In the interim, I think we can make some progress and do some good things, but the hearings are an important part of educating the public.”
He also said it was a bad idea to tie a shutdown to the anti-abortion rights movement because Planned Parenthood has a strong base of support.
“People remember, we shut down the government over ObamaCare, which was very unpopular,” he said. “Planned Parenthood is not unpopular. Its polling is actually very strong. If you're going to do something that affects funding, you need to make the case.”
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a centrist, agreed a shutdown would be a “tactical and strategic blunder.”
“I think most of the serious people around here understand that shutting down the government would be a huge error,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s enough serious people who can stop those who don’t share a serious sense of governance.”
Ultimately, GOP leaders will have no choice, but to bring up a “clean” CR, Dent said.
“Well, at the end of the day, we’re going to vote on a clean CR,” Dent said. “The question is will we vote on it before or after September 30? I propose we vote on it before September 30.”
But even then, GOP leaders could be challenged.
House Democrats are demanding negotiations with GOP leaders on a budget. They also want spending limits known as the sequester to be lifted, and it’s not clear they’d back a short-term spending measure written by the GOP with no concessions.
Sarah Ferris contributed.