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Abortion Provision In Human Trafficking Bill Delays Lynch Vote


Here's one of those classic moments in Congress when lawmakers first said they approved of a bill, and then they read it and found out what they were approving of. That is what Democrats say happened with the human trafficking bill. It seemed like a bipartisan no-brainer. Nobody favors human trafficking, and the bill would create a restitution fund for victims. Both parties were on board until Democrats said they discovered language blocking federal funds from being used for abortions. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Everyone knows, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers don't actually read the bills they vote on - not from beginning to end. They say they've got other things going on. But what's really rare is for one side to say they didn't notice something dreadfully wrong with the bill until long after both parties had given the legislation of their blessings. It's so rare, Republicans say, they aren't buying it. Here's John Cornyn of Texas.


SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: Now, this bogus story you've heard about language being slipped in the bill they didn't know was there is just that. It's completely bogus. Each of these Democrats has highly skilled professional staff, and they themselves weren't born last night, didn't fall off a turnip truck.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It isn't bogus. I spend a lot of time doing what I do.

CHANG: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

FEINSTEIN: Generally, what you do is you rely on your staff to read the bill language, and my staff is very good. In this case, there were just numbers.

CHANG: Numbers - numbers a staffer should have looked up to see that they pointed to what's called the Hyde Amendment. It's been attached to a lot of spending bills since 1976. And what it does is ban the use of federal money for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is at risk. The battle lines for abortion were drawn long ago. And Democrats aren't interested in extending the Hyde Amendment's reach now. But Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah says tough luck.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: That's a big, sloppy excuse to hold up this important trafficking bill for that reason, when this has been accepted all these years - 39 years. It's just a phony excuse on their part.

CHANG: And now Senate Republicans say they won't hold a confirmation vote for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until after the Senate resolves the human trafficking bill. And so begins a new round of accusations about who is blocking what. Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois points out Lynch has had one of the longest waits of any attorney general nominee in modern history.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Holding Loretta Lynch hostage to this whole debate - come on. That is fundamentally unfair. And here she is, about to make a civil rights history in America as the first African-American woman as Attorney General.

CHANG: But Republican John McCain of Arizona says Democrats are focused on the wrong thing.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Loretta Lynch will be fine. The young women who are being sexually trafficked now and mistreated are not going to be fine. It's disgraceful what the Democrats are doing, and they should be ashamed.

CHANG: The top Democrat, Harry Reid, says he has an easy solution.


SENATOR HARRY REID: The path forward then is clear. Take the abortion language out of the bill, and we could pass it now.

CHANG: But that's exactly what the Republicans won't do, and so here we are. The bill failed twice in the Senate yesterday, and it's bound to fail again if Republicans bring it up for another vote this week with the abortion language still in it. Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York says the other side needs to remember they're actually running things now.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER: Hello, our Republican friends, you're in the majority. They still think they're in the minority, and they're putting their own poison pills in their own bill.

CHANG: If the two sides can't find a way forward on the bill this week, the next attorney general may not be confirmed until mid-April, when Congress returns from its Easter break. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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