Ryan refuses to back down on Zika fight over Planned Parenthood

Ryan refuses to back down on Zika fight over Planned Parenthood
© Greg Nash

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEx-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday again dismissed concerns that the GOP’s funding bill to fight the Zika virus intentionally targets Planned Parenthood, even as members of his party call for the controversial language to be removed.

“First of all, there’s no Planned Parenthood [provision] in this bill, and to put an earmark for Planned Parenthood is something that we won’t do,” Ryan said at his weekly briefing.

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Ryan’s strong stance against changing the language to appease Democrats comes as Senate Republican leaders inch toward a deal that would likely take the Planned Parenthood fight out of the bill to fund Zika relief altogether.

Several Senate Republicans, as well as multiple House Republicans from Florida, have said this week that they believe GOP leaders should back down from the fight on Planned Parenthood to fast-track Zika efforts in their home state, which has been hit hard by the mosquito-borne virus.

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The Senate has already begun work on a bipartisan compromise that’s expected to be added to this month’s stopgap government spending bill. But it would ultimately have to clear the House as well, and it's unclear whether enough Republicans would concede in the fight.

Ryan was asked Thursday about whether he would agree to change the bill’s current language so that Zika grants could go to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Puerto Rico called Profamilias.

Matt Dennis, spokesman for House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), called Ryan's response "absurd and completely dishonest."

"Nobody is asking for an earmark for Planned Parenthood. We are asking that language not be included that precludes funding from the very organization [Profamilias] best placed to provide services," he said.

The GOP's language specifically says the grants can only be used by "health services provided by public health departments, hospitals, or reimbursed through public health plans." That would mean Planned Parenthood’s two clinics in Puerto Rico — where the virus has infected thousands — aren’t eligible.

The wording was put in by House Republicans in June, just after Democrats’ all-night protest on the floor to call for votes on gun reform bills.

Since then, Democrats have hammered the GOP for "playing politics" and stalling the nation's Zika response. Senate Democrats have blocked the legislation three times in two months. Vice President Biden joined Democrats on Capitol Hill on Thursday, urging the GOP leaders to hold a "straight" vote on Zika.

"It is a genuine health threat. It's here. It's consequential. Deal with it. Give us an up-or-down vote straight on Zika," Biden said. "Look, I've been here a long time in the Senate. I understand [the game of] tacking controversial issues to important legislation. But not for national emergencies." 

The House passed an earlier Zika response bill in May, which did not include the Planned Parenthood language, though it did prevent money from going toward contraception, according to Democratic aides.

The Zika virus, which is mostly spread through mosquitoes, can also spread through sex. It has been known to cause severe defects in babies born to Zika-infected mothers.

Ryan has vowed to find a solution to deliver money to help fight the spread of Zika this month.

“I do believe we’ll find some kind of resolution,” Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station this week, laying blame on Senate Democrats for blocking the GOP’s funding bills. “I anticipate by the end of this month something will get done, but the House has already done its job, and we’ll see if the Senate can get its act together.”

— Mike Lillis contributed