McConnell, Reid play blame game on anti-trafficking bill
© Greg Nash

A bill meant to crack down on human trafficking is in deep trouble in the Senate because of a political fight over abortion.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act would give additional resources to law enforcement on the issue, as well as start a fund for trafficking victims. 

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But Democrats are threatening to pull their support over the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. 

The fight took a turn for the worse Wednesday, when Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.) suggested that Democrats would block the legislation unless Republicans strip out the abortion provision. 

“Take that legislation out of the bill, otherwise it will not pass. Take it out,” he said. “Republicans are committed to turning the bipartisan bill into an unrelated, unconscionable political fight.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Democrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards MORE (R-Texas), who introduced the anti-trafficking bill, fired back, saying that Democrats are trying to “kill the bill.” 

“Unless something changes between now and the time we vote on cloture on the bill, [that] is what’s going to happen,” Cornyn said. “I hope something happens between now and the end of the week.” 

Senate Democrats say they were tricked by Republicans over whether the abortion-related language would be included in the bill. 

“We can give all the speeches out here we want, saying somebody should have read the bill more closely,” Reid said. “A number of people feel that it was by sleight of hand that this unrelated language was included in the legislation.” 

Reid’s comments followed similar remarks from Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinCOVID-19: US should help Africa, or China will GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in MORE (D-Ill.) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (D-N.Y.). 

Schumer told reporters Tuesday that, “a list [was] sent to certain members saying ‘here are the changes from last year.’ This provision was not listed among them.” 

Republicans, however, vehemently denied that they deceived Democrats to gain support for the proposal, which passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year. 

“If they didn’t know that this language was in there, they didn’t read the legislation,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden confronts sinking poll numbers Congress needs to push for more accountability in gymnasts' tragic sex abuse Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour MORE (R-Iowa). 

A Republican aide said that the abortion provision was included in the legislation when it was reintroduced in January, and that Democrats knew about it. 

“This language was added last year, was in when we introduced in January, and Democrat staff told us they knew it was in there prior to committee markup in February,” the aide said. “To cry foul now is disingenuous and not deserving of these survivors.”   

While senators continued to voice optimism that a deal can be reached, it’s unclear how they will reach an agreement before a cloture vote that senators will take Thursday.

The partisan fight is a stark turn from Monday, when both Reid and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (R-Ky.) suggested the legislation deserved broad bipartisan support. 

Democrats worry that Republicans are trying to expand the Hyde Amendment, which is generally attached to appropriations bills.

If the anti-trafficking legislation passes with the abortion language intact, the victims fund it establishes using money from criminal trafficking convictions would be subject to the Hyde Amendment. 

Democrats argue that’s a change in how the amendment is typically used.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTop Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Faith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan MORE (D-Wash.) accused Republicans of trying to “sneak in” the abortion language. 

“I am appalled that on a bill intended to help women, Republicans actually have chosen to double down on their political fight against women’s health,” she said.

But Republicans aren’t backing down. Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act before slow mail turns into no mail Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Seven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill MORE (R-Kan.) said if Democrats have a problem with the abortion language, they ought to offer an amendment. 

“If you’re opposed to something, the way to solve that is not to block the consideration of the bill,” he said. “The way to solve that is to allow the bill to be considered, and if you oppose something in the bill, offer an amendment, have the debate, and let the votes decide.

Updated at 8:27 p.m.