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Answering the call

Politics | The president challenges a divided Congress to protect life
by Harvest Prude
Posted 2/07/19, 06:13 pm

WASHINGTON—Republicans in Congress are trying to figure out how to best respond to President Donald Trump’s pro-life call to action in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children,” the president said in his speech to a joint session of Congress. His prepared remarks added “who can feel pain in the mothers womb” after the word “children,” but the audience burst into applause before he could finish the sentence.

Legislation to protect unborn babies who can feel pain passed in the House last year but failed to gain the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would safeguard babies after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. reintroduced the act in January, but the bill hasn’t been brought up in the House yet, which is now under Democratic control. Despite Republican gains in the Senate in last fall’s midterm elections, the measure still probably doesn’t have enough support to break the needed 60-vote threshold in that chamber.

Only about 1.4 percent of abortions happen after 21 weeks, but that has not prevented pro-abortion advocates from pushing expanded access to late-term abortion. In his Tuesday speech, Trump condemned New York state lawmakers who, on the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, “cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” The president also blasted recent remarks by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in support of a similar bill in Virginia.

Meanwhile, voters are overwhelmingly on the side of restricting late-term abortion. A new Marist poll showed that about 75 percent of Americans, regardless of whether they identify as pro-life, want abortion restricted to the first trimester of pregnancy.

Pro-life advocates say they hope Congress will capitalize on support from the public and the White House to bring legislation that protects unborn babies to a vote.

On Monday, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called for a unanimous consent vote in the Senate on the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a bill that would have made it a crime not to give babies who survive abortions the same amount of medical care as any newborn. A unanimous consent vote would have allowed the measure to pass if no one voiced an objection, but Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., blocked the vote.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., on Wednesday introduced a House version of the Born Alive bill, which also failed to pass by unanimous consent. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said his party will continue to ask for unanimous consent every day for 30 days. “We’ll ask again, and again, and again,” he said. “It’s not a partisan issue—it’s about saving lives.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., a co-sponsor of the Born Alive bill, said that after 30 days he will file a petition to discharge it from committee and bring it to the floor. The move would circumvent Democratic leadership and would put every House member on record on the issue. The catch is that the petition needs 218 signatories.

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told me the fight to gain signatures would place pressure on Democrats in competitive districts. But pro-life legislation is unlikely to make it to the floor of the House, where Democrats hold 235 seats to 199 for Republicans.

“Nowadays, when it comes to the life issue, there’s no such thing as bipartisanship for Democrats,” said McClusky, who added that though some Democrats, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, support protections for unborn babies, the party as a whole has moved into extremism on the life issue. “This is not safe, legal, and rare by any means.”

Though passing pro-life legislation in a divided Congress might not be possible, Steven Aden, chief legal officer for Americans United for Life, said he believes Trump’s remarks and renewed pro-life efforts by legislators could make abortion a central issue during the 2020 presidential race.

“Its going to be an interesting 2020 race,” he told me. “Most voters who voted for the president because of the Supreme Court nomination issue—and there were many of them—most of them did so because of the pro-life issue, specifically desiring to see Roe overturned. … I think we’ll see the volume turned up on that as we head into 2020.”

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Adam Schiff

The fight over oversight

Democrats are pressing forward with expanded investigations of President Donald Trump despite a warning he made in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” the president said just one day after his inaugural committee received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The subpoena seeks documents related to donors and spending, including potential benefits to donors and any foreigners who contributed funds, according to news reports. Foreign nationals are not allowed to contribute to campaigns or inaugurations under U.S. law.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the subpoena had nothing to do with Trump or the administration.

On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced an expanded probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including whether foreign actors had financial leverage over Trump, his family, or associates.

Schiff dismissed the president’s warnings and said Congress would not back down.

“I can understand why the idea of meaningful oversight terrifies the President,” he tweeted. “Several of his close associates are going to jail, others await trial, and criminal investigations continue. We’re going to do our job and won’t be distracted or intimidated by threats or attacks.” Trump tweeted back Thursday, calling Schiff a “political hack” and the new probe “unlimited presidential harassment.”

The sparring shows the investigative cloud over Trump is unlikely to dissipate soon despite signs that special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation into Russian election interference. —Anne Walters Custer

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite Neomi Rao at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday

Judicial scrutiny

Months after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh endured a contentious confirmation battle, his potential replacement on a lower court bench faces her own struggle. Neomi Rao, an attorney and President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia Circuit, answered aggressive questioning during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The questions focused on controversial statements she made in college about sexual assault.

The most scrutinized comments came from a 1994 article Rao wrote for the Yale Herald called “Shades of Gray.” One excerpt reads, “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”

Democratic committee members, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have said Rao’s past will significantly affect their votes. They’re also concerned about her work as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Trump administration. But more important in the tight Senate are the votes of Republicans such as Joni Ernst of Iowa, who said during the confirmation hearing that Rao’s writings in college “do give me pause.” Ernst recently disclosed that she was sexually assaulted by a boyfriend in college.

Rao responded by saying that she might have been “too idealistic” and that she’d “matured as a thinker, writer, and indeed as a person,” adding, “I cringe at some of the language I used.” —Kyle Ziemnick

Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Giusti Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Giusti Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaking last month in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Official complaint

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday filed a grievance against Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asking the State Bar of Texas to take action against her for listing her race as American Indian when she registered with the group. The 1986 document is signed in Warren’s handwriting and is the first example that Warren herself, as opposed to a staffer or colleague, claimed she was another ethnicity in a professional context.

Warren, who has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, listed herself as a minority for years with the Association of American Law Schools, a pattern critics have said shows she tried to gain professionally by such a move. Warren has denied such a motive. She has also apologized to Native American groups and told reporters Wednesday, “I am sorry that I extended confusion about tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty, and for harm caused.” Last year, she shared results of a DNA test that showed “strong evidence” she had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago, making her 1/1024th American Indian—less than the average American. —H.P.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and a reporter for WORLD.

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