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Graham: National Security Concerns Trump Planned Parenthood

Graham said he opposes a shutdown showdown over Planned Parenthood. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A potential President Lindsey Graham would propose defunding Planned Parenthood, but the South Carolina Republican said using a government funding crisis as leverage in an abortion debate would undermine national security.  

"Let me just be clear about me and Planned Parenthood. If I were president, I would never submit a budget with one dime for Planned Parenthood," Graham said. "I am not going, as Senator Graham, to shut the government down because of this fight. I will vote to defund Planned Parenthood, I will do everything I can to stop funding Planned Parenthood, but what Sen. [Ted] Cruz is suggesting is to shut the government down because of this dispute."  

After a "No Nukes for Iran" town hall meeting, Graham was asked by CQ Roll Call to respond to a comment by Cruz, the Texas senator who is also a Republican presidential contender, that he could not control what President Barack Obama or Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., might do when it comes to allowing a government shutdown over a rider blocking federal dollars from Planned Parenthood.  

"Already President Obama and Harry Reid are threatening a shutdown because their partisan commitment to Planned Parenthood is so extreme they would be willing to try to force a government shutdown in order to continue sending millions in taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood," Cruz said earlier this month. "That is indefensible."  

But Graham warned Monday of consequences for national defense if there's a federal funding shortfall come Oct. 1, over Planned Parenthood or anything else. As demonstrated in 2013, essential national security employees do continue to go to work in the event of a lapse in appropriated funds, though there are personnel reductions throughout the government.  

"That means that our military, our intelligence community, the people we rely upon to protect us are going to be weakened. If you're watching the world and you see it as I do, the last thing you'd do is shut down our defenses," Graham said. "I've never seen more threats to the homeland than I do today. Anybody that wants to shut down the government is shutting down the ability to stop the next attack, which I think is coming if  we don't do something differently."  

Graham's dire prediction could provide timely campaign material for Democrats.  

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Tuesday the launch of a new messaging blitz against a number of incumbent Republican senators over calls among some in the GOP to use the upcoming governing funding bill as leverage in defunding Planned Parenthood.  

"Time and again, Republican Senators have voted to defund Planned Parenthood and other women's healthcare programs, and now they need to answer if they will shut down the government to score cheap political points at the expense of women across the country," Sadie Weiner the DSCC's national press secretary, said in a statement.  

Republican senators targeted by the DSCC include Graham's top ally, Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican said last week that while the GOP did not accomplish anything out of the 2013 standoff over attempts to block funding to the Affordable Care Act, a series of recent videos about the abortion practices of Planned Parenthood make this a different story.  

“These are two entirely different situations, two entirely different, and to compare the two either is out of willful ignorance or being unaware of what took place with the last government shutdown," McCain said, calling the current debate "an issue of life and death."  

Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.

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