Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office has conceded that a Democratic staffer was aware of the contested language in a bipartisan bill to combat sex trafficking that's been stuck on the Senate floor.
An aide to the Minnesota senator, who is the primary Democratic co-sponsor of the legislation introduced by Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, provided a lengthy statement explaining the situation following a report by The Associated Press. The full statement appears below:
Senator Klobuchar has long fought to pass bipartisan legislation to protect victims of sex trafficking and sexual assault, including her Safe Harbor legislation, which is a separate bill with Republican Representative Erik Paulsen and does not include the Hyde provision. She shares Representative Paulsen’s belief that ‘this issue is far too important to tie it up with an unrelated fight.’ As for the Justice of Victims of Trafficking Act, a staff member who reviewed the reintroduced bill had seen the Hyde provision in the bill but did not inform the Senator. The Senator was not aware that the provision was included until last Monday. The Senator takes responsibility for the work of her office and missing the provision and she is focused on moving forward to find a way to fix the bill and protect victims of trafficking. Today she spoke on the Senate floor for more than two hours to call attention to the victims of sex trafficking and urge colleagues to come together to fix the bill.Klobuchar's extended oratory on the Senate floor included reading from "Half the Sky," a 2010 book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about trafficking.
CQ Roll Call reached out to Klobuchar's office when the controversy first erupted eight days ago, but only received a response Wednesday, after inquiring about the reporting by the AP.
Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as senior Democratic aides, said they were unaware of the provision until around March 9, after the Judiciary panel unanimously backed the bill and the Senate agreed to a motion to proceed to it without a filibuster threat.
Regardless of how the provision got into the legislation this year, Democrats have said the bill cannot advance further without the language, which would apply the Hyde amendment barring the use of federal funds for abortion services to the fines paid by perpetrators of human trafficking.
During a floor colloquy with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Cornyn said there may still be a way to reach a compromise.
"If we can find some other way to structure the funds so the appropriators will have a more direct role in appropriating the fines and penalties ... then I think maybe there's some room to talk," he said.
Such a move may not be acceptable to Democrats, though, since it would likely lead to annual Hyde amendment restrictions contained in annual appropriations bills to the same funds.
The Senate voted 57-41 in favor of breaking a filibuster on the Judiciary Committee's version of the Cornyn legislation Wednesday, short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. The Senate's scheduled to vote on limiting debate on the trafficking measure again Thursday at noon, with no reason to expect the outcome will be any different.
Kayla Webb contributed to this report. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.