GOP senator: Defunding Planned Parenthood is ‘a sideshow’

GOP senator: Defunding Planned Parenthood is ‘a sideshow’

A co-author of the Senate’s bill to defund Planned Parenthood is now looking to shift the debate away from the involvement of federal dollars as the threat of a government shutdown grows.

“My focus is to try to deal with the life issue. Defunding Planned Parenthood is just a sideshow for the real event, which is what are we going to do to protect children,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Thursday. 

In an interview with the Oklahoma radio station 1170 KFAQ, the first-term senator repeatedly declined to say whether he would vote against a government funding bill if it included funds for Planned Parenthood.  

“I don't know if that's even going to get to me,” he said of the government’s spending bill, which must past by Sept. 30 to avoid a shutdown. “I can't even answer that.”

The GOP is sharply at odds over a strategy on Planned Parenthood after a series of videos alleged that some of its providers have illegally profited from fetal tissue donation.

Dozens of the party’s more conservative members have threatened a government shutdown if Republican leaders do not remove the $500 million worth of funds for Planned Parenthood in this year’s spending bill, which must be approved in the next seven legislative days.

House GOP leaders, in particular, are under intense pressure to defund the group. More than 30 House members have promised to vote against any spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood, in addition to Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Houston debate Ted Cruz says he hopes to 'run again' for White House Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul calls into Wyoming TV station to talk Cheney feud Liz Cheney and Rand Paul extend war of words Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE (R-Ky.), both 2016 presidential candidates.

Lankford said he met with national anti-abortion groups on Wednesday to discuss strategy, walking through “every option.”

One of those options, though unlikely, is attracting an additional six members to Lankford’s Senate bill, which would allow the GOP to send the bill to President Obama’s desk.

“We can literally bring that back at any moment now if I can find the six additional people,” he said. Without those votes, Lankford acknowledged, “That’s as far as we can get.”

Lankford’s bill, co-authored with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would block all federal funding for Planned Parenthood while redirecting the dollars to community health clinics. The bill received 53 votes in the Senate last month, falling short of the 60 needed to advance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Harris keeps up 'little dude' attack on Trump after debate MORE voted no on the bill to keep it on the docket.

The Oklahoma senator also delivered a strong defense of McConnell at a time when the party’s right flank has blasted him for ignoring the issue.

“Sen. McConnell has pretty much said he’s done all the fighting he’s going to do on Planned Parenthood. He’s ready to go ahead and fund government for another year,” Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments MORE told The Hill last week.

Lankford maintained that he is committed to taking action against Planned Parenthood.

“I’m pushing on this in every way you possibly can,” he said. “It was my bill, I'm the one who has talked about it all over the place.”