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House creates panel to investigate Planned Parenthood

House creates panel to investigate Planned Parenthood
© Planned Parenthood

The House voted Wednesday to create a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood and the handling of aborted fetal tissue, all but ensuring an already-fierce partisan battle will continue into 2016.

In a nearly party-line vote, lawmakers voted 242 to 184 to establish a 13-member committee with broad power to investigate wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood amid allegations that it has tried to profit from the sale of aborted tissue.

Two Democrats voted in favor and one Republican opposed the measure.

The four-page bill does not mention Planned Parenthood by name. Instead, it charges the committee to investigate “fetal tissue procurement,” “federal funding and support for abortion providers” and “born-alive” abortions, generally.

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But Republicans were clear that the committee’s work is intended to deepen three existing House committee probes into Planned Parenthood, which began in early August. The committees have held three hearings as part of their investigations, which has prompted Planned Parenthood to turn over at least 20,000 documents, according to Democrats.

"Our investigation has raised many more questions than we've been able to find answers," said Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnFCC chairman willing to resign to get colleague confirmed Overnight Tech: AT&T, Time Warner CEOs defend merger before Congress | More tech execs join Trump team | Republican details path to undoing net neutrality Overnight Tech: Big win for Samsung over Apple | Trump to sit down with tech leaders | Trump claims credit for B investment deal MORE (R-Tenn.), who is expected to lead the panel. "We need to have a national conversation about these practices. This is a discussion we cannot shy away from.”

The select committee is the strongest step yet taken by House Republicans who have been riled by a series of undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking fetal parts. Despite investigations in Congress and a dozen states, the group has not faced any criminal charges – prompting widespread criticism from Democrats that the panel is politically driven.  

"Here we go again. Planned Parenthood is the new Benghazi," Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), said from the floor Wednesday. Her counterpart from Florida, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), added that the move “borders on an abuse of power.”

The committee’s investigation does not yet have a timeline, but it is likely to last for months, stretching the controversy even further into the 2016 presidential race.

The formation of the committee had been floated last week by retiring Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as he sought to calm tensions over Planned Parenthood that nearly forced a government shutdown.

The select committee’s leader will have subpoena power, which Blackburn told the Rules Committee on Tuesday would be used in consultation with the new House Speaker. The new Speaker would also have control over the committee’s budget and schedule, she said.

Six of the committee’s 13 slots are reserved for Democrats, though it’s unclear if they will participate. Republicans had previously alloted five slots, but pitched an amendment during the debate Wednesday to add the extra seat.

Democrats have forcefully condemned the committee’s formation as a “witch hunt” intended to take down Planned Parenthood – comparing it to the House’s committee on Benghazi. That committee has burst into public view this week after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), who is also running for House Speaker, suggested it was responsible for Hillary Clinton’s lagging poll numbers. 

McCarthy has since walked back his comments, insisting that the committee was not intended for political purposes.  But Democrats have seized on his remarks as fresh evidence that the House should not create a new committee investigating Planned Parenthood.

“Let’s not run a McCarthy-like hearing on Planned Parenthood and women’s health,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is running for Senate, said on the floor.

“Who knows, maybe the select committee on Planned Parenthood can shed some light on Benghazi,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffWhite House orders intelligence report of election cyberattacks McCarthy’s ghost smiles as Dems point the finger at Russia Budowsky: Did Putin elect Trump? MORE (D-Calif.) quipped during a briefing Wednesday, which included both the Pro-Choice Caucus and Democratic members of the Benghazi panel.

The Benghazi committee has cost at least $4.5 million, according to Democratic critics — figures that they believe will be on par with a Planned Parenthood investigation.

“I prefer to call it a taxpayer-funded campaign committee,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the Pro-Choice Caucus, said Wednesday.