Florida GOP ready to retreat from Planned Parenthood fight

Florida GOP ready to retreat from Planned Parenthood fight

Several House Republicans in Florida say they’re willing to concede defeat in their party’s months-long battle over Planned Parenthood if that’s what it takes to pass a $1.1 billion funding package for the Zika virus. 

With Zika spreading rapidly in south Florida, even some of the most conservative members of Congress say GOP leaders should strike a deal with Democrats to get emergency money to their home state.

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“Take everything out of it except Zika funding, and don’t put any riders in it,” Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoKat Cammack wins Florida GOP primary in bid for Ted Yoho's seat The Hill's Convention Report: Democrats gear up for Day Two of convention Eyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview Thursday.

Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.,) is urging the Senate to reconsider the House’s earlier Zika funding bill — which did not pick a fight over Planned Parenthood — even if it means providing less money overall.

“It is time for members to pull all levers in both chambers of Congress to get a funding measure to the president’s desk,” Clawson wrote in a letter to GOP Leaders, along with another Florida Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Other Florida Republicans — including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Dennis Ross — have hinted recently at relenting in the fight over Planned Parenthood by urging GOP leaders to drop political issues from the bill.  

The two parties have been deadlocked over a Zika response since February. Democrats have pressed for more money, while Republicans have argued the White House should use existing funds, like those from the Ebola virus or ObamaCare. 

In June, the fight intensified as House and Senate Republicans put forward a new bill that targeted Planned Parenthood — ditching the upper chamber’s previous deal with leading Democrats.

The bill’s language does not mention Planned Parenthood. Specifically, it says that only health services “provided by public health departments, hospitals, or reimbursed through public health plans” can receive the Zika funding from Congress.

Republicans, including the top health appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), have acknowledged that the bill targets Planned Parenthood, while stressing that they are willing to pay almost as much money as the Obama administration has asked for.

“We do have provisions, obviously, to make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood. But in divided government, it’s a pretty fair compromise,” Cole said in a recent interview.

Eight months later, lawmakers from Florida are feeling the pressure as their home state deals with the first outbreak of Zika in the continental U.S.  

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott is planning to make his second trip to Congress this year to lobby for Zika funding. He will be waiting when Congress returns from its seven-week recess next Tuesday, and plans to meet with Senate GOP leadership, according to one lawmaker.

More than 600 people in Florida have tested positive for the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in newborns. Eighty of those cases are in pregnant women, according to data from the Florida Department of Health on Thursday. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 At indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates MORE (R-Wis.) has said he is committed to passing Zika funding by Sept. 30, the deadline when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it will run out of funds. 

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla), who faces a close election race in his South Florida swing district this fall, asked Ryan about Zika funding on a House GOP conference call last week.

“Speaker Ryan assured me that this was going to get done,” Curbelo said in an interview Thursday. He added that he is urging his GOP colleagues to support a Zika bill even if it means dropping the Planned Parenthood provisions.

When asked about a scenario in which the Zika bill was not approved, he said: “I’m unwilling to even consider the possibility.”  

“This Planned Parenthood clinic in Puerto Rico, is that really worth killing Zika funding over?” Curbelo said. “The question that comes, is Zika funding a chief priority for you or not? I certainly hope that at the very least, for every representative or senator for the state of Florida it would be.”