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Abortion Bill May Muddy Message

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (above) said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s quest for a vote on abortion legislation this week “is taking time up for political agenda.”

The decision to take the vote also comes despite public and private demands by top Republicans that jobs and the economy become the primary focus of the GOP this fall as well as admonishments to conservatives that the House must abandon the ugly partisan fights that have marred the 112th Congress.

In September, for instance, Cantor said Republicans would "focus like a laser on growth," and on Tuesday during his weekly meeting with reporters, the Virginian argued that the Senate and Obama administration should drop their demands for stimulus measures that are politically untenable.

"Stop putting stuff forward that doesn't have the bipartisan support necessary" for passage, Cantor said. At one point, the GOP leader pointed to Senate jobs legislation that Republicans say spends too much and ruled it dead on arrival in the House. "It just doesn't make sense to us, and we're not going to pass that," Cantor declared.

But when asked how he squares demands for bipartisanship by Democrats with his plan to pass an abortion measure with no chance of passage in the Senate, Cantor said simply, "That was part of the Pledge to America. ... It is something we said we would do, and we're upholding that pledge."

GOP aides defended Cantor's decision, noting that the Pledge to America locked Republicans into a number of votes on abortion and that if he didn't stick to it, Republicans would "get hit with a bunch of bad stories."

Cantor is also dealing with a particularly motivated part of his caucus. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) who sponsored the bill is one of the House's most virulently anti-abortion lawmakers and enjoys support from a significant portion of the GOP Conference.

As a result, even if Cantor and other leaders did not want to take up the issue again, they would have likely had little choice but to address it in some way.

A leadership aide also dismissed questions about the timing of the bill, saying that regardless of when Cantor brought it to the floor, it would be a contentious vote.

"When would you like us to have the vote?" the aide asked.

Still, Hoyer questioned the logic of bringing up a bill that has little chance of passage.

"There's not a Republican who believes that bill is going to be passed in the Senate I think, maybe I'm wrong on that or that the president would sign it," he said Tuesday.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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