It's hard to imagine there could be any kind of silver lining to the horrific events in Colorado Springs last Friday, but one small positive consequence might be that the right wing will not be as anxious to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding this month. It's hard to believe they thought this would be an effective tactic in the first place, but it's possible that the killing of three people, including a police officer, and wounding nine others may have made them decide that this might not be the best time for an ostentatious showdown over their anti-abortion crusade. House majority leader Kevin McCarthy said on Monday that "security is becoming the top issue" and he doesn't "hear people shutting the government down over [Planned Parenthood] right now."
If Kevin McCarthy hasn't once again screwed the pooch by opening his big mouth, this likely comes as some relief to the new Speaker, Paul Ryan, who had to have been dreading the prospect of dealing with the anti-abortion zealots in his party who were planning to hold the must-pass Omnibus spending bill hostage to score political points and wreak havoc with the federal government. It was, after all, this issue that brought an end to Speaker John Boehner's career.
You'll recall that Boehner had tried for months to appease the social conservative base which had been smarting from its loss on marriage equality and felt that it was being take for granted by the GOP. When the edited footage from the Center for Medical Progress was publicly released, it gave this faction a new focus for its energy and the GOP establishment was happy to help. Indeed, the activist filmmakers had consulted with Republican members of congress weeks in advance of the release and they appear to have coordinated the response. From the moment the edited tapes were made public, Republicans at all levels pulled out every rhetorical stop to condemn them, with Boehner himself saying “I could talk about the video but I think I’d vomit trying to talk about it. It’s disgusting.”
Knowing that the fervor for shutting down the government over this issue was growing -- and also knowing that it would be lethal for Republicans in an election year -- Boehner and other establishment Republicans worked overtime to mollify these zealots by throwing out the most incendiary rhetoric they could imagine, almost always including their patented slogan: "baby parts." They convened a variety of committee investigations and held hearings with names like "Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” Boehner even created a "Benghazi" level select House committee which they fatuously named the "Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives." All of this was done in the hopes that if they threw out enough vitriol and anger, they could somehow keep the angry social conservatives under control.
Boehner thundered to reporters, “the goal here is not to shut down the government, the goal is to stop these horrific practices of organizations selling baby parts!"
But it didn't work. As the October 1st drop-dead date drew near and the radicals threatened to relieve him of his job if he refused to force a confrontation with the White House over this issue, Boehner saw the writing on the wall. These people were not going to be placated with fierce language and a promise to "investigate." They wanted action. So he decided to step down, hoping that a new speaker's honeymoon would paper over these problems long enough to get them through the election without another governing crisis.
As we all know, that transition did not go smoothly. McCarthy, Boehner's second in command and presumptive Speaker, let the Clinton witchhunt cat out of the bag and it set off a frantic manhunt for someone to step up to replace him. But there are indications that the fractious uber-conservatives are willing to cut Paul Ryan some slack, at least for now. TPM reported yesterday:
"I think it's unfair to hold Paul Ryan accountable for this particular omnibus. The Dec. 11 crisis that our leadership created is one of the reasons we got rid of our leadership," said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a tea party favorite. "It's not of his making, and I personally would not write him off if something doesn't happen on this omnibus, whether it's Planned Parenthood ... or something else."
That's a very hopeful sign for Ryan. If he manages to get this bill passed without a lot of drama, the political establishment will hail him as the greatest speaker since Sam Rayburn.
Unfortunately, Ryan and McCarthy may be making an erroneous assumption about the rabid anti-abortion lobby's reaction to Colorado Springs. These constituents are furious that this tiny little terrorist act should reflect badly on them or have any effect whatsoever on their agenda. Irin Carmon at MSNBC spent yesterday talking to leaders of various grassroots "pro-life" organizations. Here are the reactions of two of them:
“After all these years and millions of babies that have gone to their death, violence is to be anticipated,” said Judie Brown, president of American Life League, in a phone interview with MSNBC. “Because it’s acceptable to violently kill a baby, so why isn’t it acceptable to violently kill other people?”
“We never approve of violence against anybody, whether it’s the unborn babies or the clients of Planned Parenthood or anybody else,” Ann Scheidler, vice president of the Pro-Life Action League, told MSNBC. But, she added, “it’s not the fault of the pro-life movement that someone found out that Planned Parenthood is doing these things. It’s the fault of Planned Parenthood for selling the baby parts.”
Planned Parenthood is a villain,” she said. “They undermine the integrity of families and the morality of young teen girls and kill babies on a regular basis, day after day. We’re not going to say, ‘Oh, poor Planned Parenthood, we should never say anything negative about what they call ‘services.’ Because they are a blight on our culture.”
It stands to reason that Washington politicians have not yet felt the full force of these constituents' wrath. But obviously these are not people who feel cowed or humbled by the fact that a man went into a Planned Parenthood clinic and shot a dozen people and reportedly declared "no more baby parts" upon his arrest.
If the GOP presidential candidates can be assumed to have put their fingers in the wind to test their potential voters' reactions, it is also obvious they are not having any second thoughts about demagoguing those edited videos or lying about bloody, barbaric dismemberment of living children to score cheap political points. But maybe the country will get lucky. We can hope that Kevin McCarthy is right and some of the air has gone out of this anti-Planned Parenthood crusade in the wake of Colorado Springs and at least we will not see a government shutdown circus over this issue. It would be obscene.
Unfortunately, the reactions from the politicians and the anti-abortion activists are not reassuring. Paul Ryan may very well get the Boehner treatment sooner than he anticipated.