The first Republican presidential debate is officially on August 6 in Cleveland. But the contenders for the party’s nomination were already scrambling on Monday to outflank one another as the party’s most ardent foe of reproductive rights. In advance of a Senate vote on a proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, Republican candidates who sit in the Senate made moves that seemed at every turn to confirm Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’ observation that the effort to cut federal support for clinics across the country was “all about politics.”
Republican contenders Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida were leading the charge against continued funding of the health-care provider. Paul highlighted his decision to be in DC rather than New Hampshire or Iowa with a message to Twitter followers that read: “Voting to defund Planned Parenthood now, please chip in to help me continue fighting Washington Machine.” The message steered recipients toward a secure fund-raising sight that reminded the faithful that, “Each individual may contribute up to $2,700 per election ($5,400 total).”
A fourth Republican contender, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, got grief for missing the vote in order to appear in person at a New Hampshire forum — despite Graham’s accurate but poorly-received attempt to explain that the vote was meaningless because President Obama would surely veto the measure.
Such are the political dynamics surrounding the latest effort to limit access to basic health services for women.
Never mind that the effort failed on a procedural vote. Supporters of the defunding measure got just 53 of the 60 votes needed to advance the proposal — which Maine Senator Angus King, an independent who joined most Democrats in opposing the move, described as so misguided that it was the equivalent of “attacking Brazil after Pearl Harbor. It’s a vigorous response, but it’s the wrong target.”
What was happening Monday in the Senate was not about the legislative process.
It was about the political process in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And it is unlikely that Monday’s vote marked the end of the politicking within the Capitol.
As summer turns to fall, and as the Republican competition intensifies, the lines between campaigning and governing are all but certain to blur. It is certainly true that Republican and Democratic senators seeking presidential nominations have in the past played politics within the Capitol. But the fight over Planned Parenthood funding has taken on a fervency that is likely to distinguish it from the usual inside-the-beltway positioning.