GOP shifts Planned Parenthood attacks

GOP shifts Planned Parenthood attacks
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are shifting their line of attack against Planned Parenthood now that the undercover video campaign against the group appears to be waning.

Conservatives in both chambers of Congress are broadening their battle against the organization, accusing the group of wasteful spending on "lavish" travel, celebrity theme parties and high salaries.

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“$520,000 a year,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said on the floor Tuesday, referring to the salary of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. “In effect, the taxpayers are subsidizing the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood.”

Republicans hope the fresh allegations will help sustain outrage against Planned Parenthood, even if the campaign against the organization’s handling of fetal tissue draws to a close.

The firestorm around Planned Parenthood began over the summer, when the Center for Medical Progress began releasing undercover videos about the group’s handling of aborted fetal tissue.

Ten videos have been released since July, with the footage released on a near weekly basis.

But it’s been two and a half weeks since the Center for Medical Progress has unveiled a new video, and it’s unclear if there are more in the pipeline. Its founder, David Daleiden, did not return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are looking for ways to keep the pressure on Planned Parenthood.

Some conservatives had pushed to use the fight over government spending to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but Congress on Wednesday declined to take that step with passage of a short-term spending bill.

The move is riling conservatives, who worry they have blown their best chance to get ahead in the war against the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“I doubt we’re ever going to have as much momentum as we have right now,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said in an interview Wednesday. “That’s why I’m disappointed that we’re squandering it.”

The video attacks and two GOP-led hearings have so far failed to make a dent in Planned Parenthood’s historically high public support, which cuts across both parties and most demographics.

Even with three congressional committees and a dozen states investigating Planned Parenthood, support for the healthcare provider has grown. A total of 47 percent of people say they support Planned Parenthood, up slightly from 45 percent since the first video was released in July, according to Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls. Opposition to the group inched up to 31 percent, from 30 percent, over that time.

Planned Parenthood officials have repeatedly cited such polling figures to argue the importance of the organization’s healthcare services to the country.

“Ultimately, this is a really losing battle,” Richards told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview late Tuesday, after testifying for more than five hours.

“It may be something they find is politically effective within their caucus or within the Republican primary, but it is absolutely, I think, a terrible political move within the broader public,” she said.

Advocates against abortion rights, who see the Planned Parenthood videos as an opening, say Congress needs to do more to ensure that the public sees the footage.

“I think there’s sufficient material in the videos that have been released to shock American people about what really goes on,” said former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, who is now an advocate for the abortion opponent group Susan B. Anthony’s List. “I think pro-life leaders in Congress need to draw attention to them. That’s our expectation.”

Massie, who is among 30 House conservatives threatening a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, said conservatives investigating the group have been told not to focus on the videos during their hearings.

“I think the Democrats were adamant that the hearings not focus on the videos, because they weren’t vetted yet,” Massie said. “Literally our guidance was not to focus on the videos.”

Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksArizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership MORE (R-Ariz.), one of the House’s leading opponents of abortion rights, said the GOP’s campaign against Planned Parenthood could still succeed.  

“Planned Parenthood has ethical lapses that are ubiquitous, and it’s important for the American people to see the different areas,” he said.

“I fully understand Planned Parenthood’s need and requirement to attack the credibility of these videos,” Franks said. “It’s the only thing they have, otherwise they have been exposed to the world for what they really do, and they cannot survive that exposure. They’re left with no option but to try to undermine the videos.”

The new attacks against Planned Parenthood, as made clear in the Oversight Committee's first hearing on Tuesday, are far-ranging.

“If they’re going to accept taxpayer dollars, they’re going to have to withstand the scrutiny of Congress asking tough questions about how they spent that money,” Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse 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 GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Utah) said as he released the results of a weeks-long investigation by his powerful House Oversight Committee.

In a rapid-fire question session, Chaffetz quizzed the Planned Parenthood president on everything from foreign donations to her salary.

“They’re so flush with cash, they started giving out money overseas,” he said.

Minutes later, Chaffetz criticized Planned Parenthood for transferring money to its political arm, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which he said unethically share employees, facilities and mailing lists with each other. He then criticized the group for advancing political causes unrelated to healthcare, specifically pointing to redistricting.

“It’s a political organization, and that’s something that needs to be ferreted out,” Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz was clear that his committee’s hearing on Tuesday — the first to include a Planned Parenthood executive — would not focus on the footage, which his committee is still trying to obtain unedited versions of.

Musgrave said the key to winning the debate is persistence.  

“I think it takes a great deal of exposure to change people’s minds. Quite frankly, what’s been happening in Congress, while it's very encouraging to us, it’s also esoteric to the average person out there,” she said. “You just have to keep working.”