Mitch McConnell amid Planned Parenthood uproar: No more shutdowns

There’s nothing like unilateral disarmament right before a big budget fight. Breathe easy, abortion warriors: If it’s a choice between yanking taxpayer money from an outfit that sells babies for parts and protecting a 2016 talking point that the new GOP majority is too mature for silly things like shutdowns, the latter wins every time. The only suspense now is what form the next exciting episode of Republican failure theater will take. Traditionally what would happen is that McConnell would attach the PP defunding bill to a budgetary continuing resolution, that resolution would then be filibustered by Senate Democrats (or, less likely, vetoed by Obama), and then McConnell would yank the bill with a sad, whaddaya-gonna-do shrug. Pro-lifers are placated, at least in theory — hey, the GOP tried, right? — the shutdown is avoided, and all’s well for Beltway Republicans apart from some grumbling by Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, all of whom will be eager to impress socially conservative primary voters by standing firm against PP. That’s probably how things will play out in September.

Or will they? Ben Domenech argues that the horror felt by pro-life Republicans across the party’s spectrum at the CMP sting videos may leave McConnell and Boehner with no choice but to go to the mat this time:

The tenor and tone from the pro-life groups for whom the Planned Parenthood defunding fight is their purpose seems to me to be very simple, steady, and straightforward: this is why they exist. Republicans in the Senate had every opportunity to choose to attach this to a Highway Bill and force the president to veto Planned Parenthood defunding. Then the pressure would’ve lessened as moderate pro-lifers say “well they tried in good faith” – but they didn’t.
McConnell chose the other path, and actually made it worse by setting up a defunding vote yesterday that precludes a similar show vote in the House…  (Had the House vote gone first, it would’ve gone to the Senate, someone would’ve filibustered, and McConnell could’ve said “hey, we tried” – now that fiction doesn’t even work.) So now the only clear way to force the issue is the kind of shutdown politics we’ve seen before. What does seem clear is that the groups are not going to be distracted this time around: they want defunding of Planned Parenthood, and they want Obama to shut the government down over the issue, and they want every Democrat who agrees with him to have to defend that decision – just as Hillary Clinton did here.

McConnell’s in a jam because of electoral politics. In an off-year, he might have felt safe disappointing pro-lifers in the expectation that the GOP would have a chance to make it up to them later, before the next election. That logic doesn’t hold now: Barring something amazing happening, the CMP videos and the movement to defund Planned Parenthood will be the galvanizing cause for pro-lifers before the 2016 election, and no fewer than three formidable GOP presidential candidates from McConnell’s own caucus will be attacking him for it if he backs down. Failure theater this time could do serious damage. Which raises the question: Why would McConnell try to surrender preemptively here by ruling out a shutdown when he knows full well that pressure from his own base may leave him with no choice but to have this fight? The only explanation I can think of is that he knows a shutdown is coming and that he’s doing what little he can to scrub the GOP leadership’s fingerprints off of it, putting himself on record at the very start that he thinks shutdowns are a bad idea. That way, if the media blames Republicans for the shutdown later (and they will), their reports will probably/hopefully mention that GOP leaders oppose the plan. Why knowing that would reassure shutdown-averse voters is unclear to me; all it would prove is that McConnell’s lost control of his caucus and can’t promise to prevent future shutdowns if the GOP retains its Senate majority. But that’s the plan, I think.