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Senate Dems block bill to defund Planned Parenthood

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By CNN Wire Service.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Partisan rancor returned to the Capitol on Thursday just hours after Pope Francis addressed Congress, when Senate Democrats blocked a must-pass funding bill because of their opposition to its anti-abortion provisions.

The measure needed 60 votes to advance but failed, 52 to 47.

The bill, which would have funded the government until Dec. 11, would have also barred money going to Planned Parenthood, the women's health organization Republicans revile because of the abortion services it provides. Democrats demanded that the bill be stripped of the provision before they consented to fund the government before a critical Oct. 1 deadline.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who acknowledged in advance that the measure would fail, scheduled the vote as part of a complicated series of procedural steps aimed at avoiding the second government shutdown in as many years. McConnell and GOP leaders wanted to show their base that they lack the votes to defund Planned Parenthood, then quickly move on to a measure free of restrictions to the organization in order to keep money flowing to federal agencies.

Later Thursday, McConnell is expected to begin the procedural process of bringing to the floor a "clean" funding bill -- one that doesn't include any measure to strip Planned Parenthood of funding -- to keep the government open until mid-December, pushing final votes until early next week on the eve of the funding deadline. Once the Senate passes a funding bill, it will leave the matter to the unpredictable House, where GOP leaders have yet to decide on their exact course of action.

Republican leaders are performing the delicate dance largely because of conservative outrage to edited Planned Parenthood videos secretly taped by an anti-abortion group, allegedly showing officials from the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

But already, GOP leaders are facing intensifying pressure from their right flank not to cave, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accusing GOP leaders of "surrender," and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, winning the support of 30 of his colleagues to oppose any bill that funds Planned Parenthood.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, blasted Republicans who control Congress for running this debate right up to the deadline again.

"It's a terrible, inefficient, wrong way to run the government of the United States," Hoyer told reporters Wednesday, noting leaders have known for months that a bill would need to attract bipartisan support, but the GOP hasn't reached out to Democrats.

The pressure is most acute on House Speaker John Boehner, who is facing a revolt from the conservative House Freedom Caucus over his leadership position. Some are warning they will try to force him out of the speakership if he allows federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a battle that could prompt an unprecedented fight on the House floor for the Ohio Republican to keep his job.

In a sign of how concerned House GOP leaders are about the vote, Boehner summoned to his office some of the conservatives who are threatening him. Mulvaney, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisconsin, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho arrived at the speaker's office mid-afternoon. On his way in, Mulvaney said he felt like he was being called "to the principal's office."

House leaders also scheduled a meeting of all House Republicans Friday morning.

Many expect the House to ultimately accept a clean stopgap bill and instead push to defund Planned Parenthood through a separate process known as budget reconciliation.

Such a tactic has already drawn scorn from the right, but a growing number of House Republican freshmen have called on the GOP to take the threat of shutdown off the table. A letter sent to Republican House members from 11 freshmen said their party should avoid and "unnecessary and harmful government shutdown" and support a short-term funding bill.

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