Senate Judiciary Chair and rabid anti-choicer Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decided Wednesday that keeping the Supreme Court from doing its job wasn’t enough and is now holding up Obama’s pick for deputy director of Health and Human Services over Planned Parenthood. Grassley said he would hold up confirmation of Dr. Mary Wakefield to HHS until he was given an adequate response to what the department was doing to address the (debunked) allegations and rumors that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue. This is the second time in three days Grassley has made news for holding up a nomination, having vowed to refuse to even consider any Obama nominees to the Supreme Court earlier this week.
GOP leadership may see an opportunity to further weaken the Obama administration by applying pressure to HHS, an agency they’ve long targeted. They’ve attempted to block HHS nominees once in 2009 over a “gag order” that prevented health insurance companies from lobbying senior citizens on the ACA before its passage, and again over Americans losing co-op health insurance plans granted to them by the ACA, which is ironic considering it was an amendment by Marco Rubio that killed the co-ops to begin with.
But with the ACA proving more popular than it was a couple of years ago, Republicans needed a new strawman to justify continuing to starve the agency that has brought much needed government assistance to millions of Americans during Obama’s time in office.
Enter Planned Parenthood, a triple whammy target for Republicans. Not only is it a government agency loosely linked with the evil Obama agency, and not only is it even more loosely linked in the mind of the conservative voter with abortion, but it has the special election year bonus of creating an incident that can be used to hurl attacks at pro-choice Democratic candidates as well. Republicans get to turn out their base, attack Democrats, and deny yet another request of the Obama administration. Not too shabby.
And they’re mobilizing voters with it, too. Focus on the Family, a right-wing Christian hate group, is running a grassroots lobbying effort to defund Planned Parenthood, and other groups have started online petitions. By blocking a nominee for HHS and referencing the bogus Planned Parenthood probe in the process, Grassley keeps these these efforts relevant and the conservative base mobilized.
The Senator hasn’t said how long he would hold up the nominee, merely that he wasn’t satisfied HHS was investigating Planned Parenthood enough and that he was waiting for that to change, meaning he’ll probably block the nominee until the next president takes office. The question is how many other nominees the GOP is going to block. There’s a long list of nominations in committee they can obstruct, not to mention ones that haven’t gotten to the Senate yet.
The battle over the Supreme Court nomination is still only just taking shape, and with other departments like HHS in the cross-hairs the pressure for the GOP to get out of the way is only going to increase. They seem oblivious to public pressure now, but with Democrats trying to use obstruction as an issue to retake the Senate, that could change. When it does, a large portion of the GOP’s argument to voters for 2016 might collapse with it.
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