GOP unloads on Planned Parenthood executive

GOP unloads on Planned Parenthood executive
© Greg Nash

Republicans battled with the chief of Planned Parenthood at a marathon hearing on Tuesday that was dominated by highly charged exchanges over undercover videos that suggested the group was selling fetal tissue.

Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards forcefully defended the group, arguing in her first public Capitol Hill appearance that the videos were deceptively edited and allegations of wrongdoing were “offensive and categorically untrue.”

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Sitting alone at the witness stand, Richards faced a barrage of attacks from nearly two-dozen Republican lawmakers over five hours.

The GOP, led by Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke MORE (R-Utah), piled on attacks, pressing arguments that Planned Parenthood has been caught in illegal activity involving the donation of fetal tissue for medical research.

“It seemed to me that your apology was like what some criminals do. They’re not really sorry for what they’ve done, they’re sorry they got caught. It seems to be your apology is because you got caught,” Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) told Richards in front of the standing-room only hearing.

Some of the tensest exchanges came from some of the same 31 Republicans who threatened to shut down the government in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, including Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTestimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Former Ukraine envoy unexpectedly returns to Capitol Hill MORE (Ohio) and Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy remembers political opponent, good friend Elijah Cummings Hill editor-in-chief: 'Hard to imagine' House leadership without Cummings Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 MORE (S.C.).

Jordan interrupted Richards 19 times in five minutes as he grilled her about the previous apology she had given about the leaked footage.

“I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree,” Richards said, prompting a sharp reply from Jordan, who leads the House Freedom Caucus. “I don’t think we’re agreeing to disagree. I think you’re not answering my question,” he said.

Later in the hearing, Richards shared a terse exchange with Gowdy, who said the two could not “agree to disagree” because he believed she was lying to him.

Sparks began to fly in the first few minutes of the emotional hearing as Chaffetz — who teared up during his opening marks — pressed Richards on her annual compensation.

The chairman then unleashed a new line of attack, accusing Planned Parenthood of misspending more than $40 million in federal dollars on “lavish” travel, “lucrative” salaries and parties with themes like “Chocolate Champagne” and “Murder Mystery.”

He also picked apart the group’s spending by its lobbying arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, using it to argue that Planned Parenthood should become its own private entity.

“You don’t need federal dollars to do this,” Chaffetz said.  

Tuesday marks the third time that a congressional committee has dedicated a hearing to Planned Parenthood’s video controversy, though the group was not represented at the previous hearings.

The highly anticipated hearing drew hundreds of people, who lined up to get inside the room.

Richards, who has been an executive with Planned Parenthood for nearly 10 years, was cautious and sometimes defensive during her long day on Capitol Hill.

She was rarely combative — telling lawmakers “I’m not trying to be argumentative” — and mostly refrained from raising her voice during even the sharpest attacks.

Still, her response to the GOP lawmakers’ claims were her strongest to date about the videos.  

“The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood, based on heavily doctored videos, are offensive and categorically untrue,” she said.

More than a dozen Democrats came to Richards’s defense, criticizing their GOP colleagues for comments they said were misogynic and ill-informed.

One of the committee’s top Democrats said Chaffetz was out of line for commenting on Richards’s salary.

“I’ve never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary,” Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's impeachment jeopardy deepens The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings MORE (D-N.Y.) said. “I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory.”

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who has served five terms, dismissed the hearing as partisan politics.

“We’re having an argument that’s never going to attend abortion,” Welch said.

Anna Primosch contributed to this report.

Updated at 8:16 p.m.