Senators negotiated Wednesday over how to end a legislative standoff that has stalled votes on an otherwise noncontroversial anti-human trafficking bill as well as the nomination of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s pick for attorney general.
The Senate set a vote Thursday for the most recent proposed solution from Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. But on Wednesday afternoon it appeared unlikely to end the gridlock.
“We keep talking,” Cornyn told CQ Roll Call after a bipartisan lunch Wednesday. Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., confirmed after the lunch that senators were still discussing alternatives.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democrats say the new Cornyn amendment does not address their concerns over abortion-related language that Republicans added to the anti-trafficking bill (S 178).
Cornyn and Republicans had declined several Democratic offers on the bill, including using a House-passed version of the bill that does not include the abortion-related provision, a Democratic aide said Wednesday.
The pressure points for a deal remain unchanged. Republicans know Democrats want the trafficking bill to pass and a confirmation vote for Lynch to be attorney general. Democrats know Republicans will face pressure not to appear to be pushing a provision for special interests and dragging a qualified black woman’s nomination into the fray.
So far, four Democrats have crossed party lines in cloture votes on the trafficking bill: Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
Cornyn and Republicans are seeking just two more minority members to cross the line to overcome the Democratic filibuster. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wouldn’t allow a vote on Lynch until Democrats cooperated on the trafficking bill.
“We’re hopeful, but we don’t have anything nailed down yet,” Cornyn said Wednesday afternoon. “I think it’s a decision point, and so hopefully people will take advantage of it.”
Democrats say, however, that the amended bill would still raise concerns that it sets a precedent for expanding the Hyde amendment, which bans taxpayer dollars from funding abortion except in the case of rape or when the health of the mother is at risk.
Cornyn said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the new language in the trafficking bill would make clear that any money going into the victim’s fund would have to be appropriated and thus subject to the Hyde amendment. The fines and penalties associated with this fund would no longer be directly appropriated and paid out in grants to the victims of human trafficking but rather transferred from the general fund and therefore subject to Hyde.
Democrats said Wednesday that they consider that private funding, not taxpayer funding.
“It’s obvious Republicans want to expand Hyde, and we don’t want them to expand Hyde,” Reid told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s no compromise. It’s either Hyde applying to taxpayers or private [dollars]. We don’t want it in private. There’s no spillover. It’s either one or the other.”
Planned Parenthood urged senators to oppose Cornyn’s amendment, saying it expanded the Hyde amendment.
“What victims of human trafficking need is access to health services and other support, not the accounting gimmick that Sen. John Cornyn has offered,” Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a written statement. “His relentless effort to use the trafficking bill to advance an ideological agenda to limit access to abortion is part of a broader agenda that we are seeing all over the country at the state and now federal level.”