The House on Tuesday evening voted 228-196 on legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks — with the bill's champion conspicuously absent from the debate.
The sidelining of bill sponsor Trent Franks, R-Ariz., was a clear signal of the extent to which Republican leadership found itself forced to undertake significant damage control after last week’s Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, when Franks kicked off a firestorm by saying “the instance of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”
He later said he had misspoken and was then taken out of context by his Democratic critics, and in an interview with CQ Roll Call he said he had not received any admonishment from senior members of his party.
But late last week, Republican leaders confirmed that Franks — the obvious choice to manage floor debate for Republicans on a bill he introduced — had been replaced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
He sat quietly on the House floor during proceedings, and his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Leadership and Judiciary Committee aides declined to offer explanation.
And reeling from criticism that there are no Republican women assigned to serve on the Judiciary Committee, women of the GOP dominated floor debate.
“I’m so honored to be joined by pro-life women as we have discussed this issue, as we have come together,” Blackburn said in closing remarks Tuesday.
When asked on Monday why she had been approached to manage the bill over Franks, Blackburn told CQ Roll Call that, “it’s always good when a pro-life female comes forward and takes the lead on some of those issues.”
During floor debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said, “We’re here because we care about women.”
Democrats appeared cognizant of the Republican strategy on Tuesday and capitalized on their own party’s significant female representation on the Judiciary Committee. They chose panel member Zoe Lofgren of California to manage floor debate on the Democratic side of the aisle and invited many of her committee colleagues to deliver remarks against the legislation.
Lofgren herself also sought to emphasize that contrast, asking at the start of the debate why a committee member was not managing the bill for Republicans in place of Blackburn.
At a later point in the debate, New York Democrat Steve Israel came to the floor to make a “parliamentary inquiry” as to whether Blackburn had been selected “because the Republicans have no women on the Judiciary Committee.”
Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said Blackburn was chosen at the discretion of the panel.
Though Republicans have been largely silent — at least publicly — about the effect of Franks’ remarks, some GOP members have spoken candidly.
Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who urged leadership not to bring the bill to the floor and voted against the measure on Tuesday, last week said that Franks’ comments had the “unfortunate effect of branding many Republicans” as those who would make “incendiary” and “uninformed” comments.
On Monday, pro-abortion-rights New York Republican Rep. Richard Hanna said Franks’ remarks were “sad to hear after Todd Akin’s colossal and stupid comment,” referring to the former Missouri GOP congressman’s statement about “legitimate rape” that all but sank his Senate bid against Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Four other Republicans joined Dent and Hanna in opposing the bill, with six Democrats bucking the party line to vote in support of the bill with Republican colleagues.