Three weeks away from a government shutdown, as Republicans wrestle with just how far they're willing to go to defund Planned Parenthood, Speaker John A. Boehner isn't ruling out anything.
"Listen: The goal here is not to shut down government," Boehner said during his weekly news conference. "The goal is to stop these horrific practices of [Planned Parenthood] selling baby parts. So that's the goal." But Boehner made it clear Republicans haven't decided how they're going to handle Planned Parenthood in an upcoming continuing resolution. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been emphatic that Republicans in his chamber don't have the votes to defund Planned Parenthood, Boehner has largely avoided that question by repeating one of his favorite CR lines: "No decisions have been made."
Boehner Coy on Government Shutdown Over Planned Parenthood
In the strictest sense, that may be true. GOP leadership probably hasn't made any firm decisions on the CR. But Boehner and other leaders aren't clueless. They have a sense of how the CR battle will play out. Asked about the spending caps that Democrats insist are unacceptable, Boehner acknowledged that those sequestration numbers could be negotiable. "At some point, there's likely to be some conversation about discretionary funding levels," he said, "We're just not at that point yet."
The speaker could probably say the same about Planned Parenthood funding.
Boehner is forced to play out the Planned Parenthood uncertainty a little longer, partly because definitively declaring the group will be funded in a CR allows conservatives to gather opposition and partly because Boehner could actually decide to send a CR stripped of Planned Parenthood funding to the Senate — especially if he thinks failure to do so puts his speakership at risk.
With a resolution to take his gavel away still hanging out there, and with the threat that conservatives could force a vote on a motion to vacate the chair at any moment, Boehner seems like he's listening to his conference very carefully. Hence the sudden reversal on the Iran disapproval resolution on Wednesday and why Boehner continues to talk tough on Planned Parenthood.
"Taxpayers should not fund abortions. Period," Boehner said Thursday, in response to a question about the number of abortions Planned Parenthood had performed in a given year. Federal law already prohibits taxpayer funds from funding abortions, but many argue that the government money Planned Parenthood receives frees up other dollars to pay for abortions.
Either way, Boehner knows that defunding Planned Parenthood in a CR is next to impossible without 60 GOP votes in the Senate and a Republican in the White House. And he's seen how quickly Congress can end up in a government shutdown when leaders allow members to believe that their legislative dreams can become realities.
At this point, Boehner is waiting, trying to gauge the conference, perhaps quietly trying to influence members and convince the rabble-rousers that they have no chance of taking him down, regardless of what happens on a CR.
"I have broad, widespread support amongst my members. We saw it yesterday," Boehner said Thursday, pointing out that he received a standing ovation a day earlier during a special conference meeting for, Boehner said, "the fact that I have this job, and what I have to put up with."
Even before the question-and-answer period of his Thursday news conference, Boehner offered a scripted line about the chatter circling the Capitol that his job is in danger.
"Leadership comes with challenges," Boehner said. "That's how it's been for me, that's how it's been for Republican and Democrat leaders long before me.
"The real challenges are the ones the American people are facing every day," Boehner said, proving once again that he still understands politics better than most of Congress.
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