Planned Parenthood is about to get the Benghazi treatment.
House Republicans are gearing up to launch a committee dedicated solely to investigating—well, a lot of things having to do with abortion. But if you liked the Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing yesterday, when they grilled PP President Cecile Richards (reviews were mixed), you’ll love the new, quasi-permanent inquiry.
It’s all because of hidden-camera videos that the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress slowly released over the past few months. The videos have put Planned Parenthood and many of its Democrat supporters on defense, with eye-popping allegations that the group sells tissue from aborted fetuses for profit. Though Planned Parenthood vehemently disputes that any of its employees or clinics have profited from the provision of fetal tissue to researchers, the practice brought the squirm-inducing details of the abortion procedure into the mainstream and renewed the decades-old national debate on the subject.
Republicans, who have long bemoaned the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives, are determined not to squander this opportunity to finally take them off the public tab.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, announced on September 26 that the effort was in the works. Since then, Republicans have rallied behind her. A senior House Republican aide told The Daily Beast that the lower chamber could vote as early as next week to establish the committee, and that it will focus on the practices—including fetal tissue distribution—that the videos highlight. The aide also said the committee will have its own staff, as well as subpoena power.
This special committee would be in addition to other House panels. And for conservatives that might be a good thing.
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform brought Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, before their panel for a grill-a-thon that—oddly—largely and deliberately avoided the content of the videos. Instead, members questioned Richards about why she gets paid so much and whether she understood people with differing views.
That particular hearing generated sharp and negative criticism from many pro-life conservatives. John McCormack at The Weekly Standard, for instance, wrote a piece headlined “How Not to Make Planned Parenthood Squirm” and called the hearing’s milquetoast questioning “a failure both of establishment Republicans and staunch conservatives.” And at The Federalist, David Harsanyi wrote that the Republicans helming the effort were “inexcusably lazy.”
Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, decried the investigation but said her group would play ball.
“We will, of course, cooperate with any fact-finding inquiry—even though these investigations are all based on false and discredited claims, without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood,” she said in a statement. “This is really an attempt of to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.”
Blackburn told The Daily Beast that the committee’s goals will be broad, and that it will look at how the organization uses the $500 million or so that it gets from the federal government every year. Federal law prohibits organizations from using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion procedures, but pro-life activists and lawmakers argue that by paying for overhead and keeping the group in the black, these funds offset the cost of providing abortions.
She said the subcommittee staff will focus on “getting answers to some of the questions about the fungibility of money, how funds are actually used—Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, and how they utilize those funds on their outreach into the community, is some of it used on abortion?”
I asked if the committee would focus on how Planned Parenthood spends its federal money.
“Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers,” she said. “And yes, the fetal tissue, fetal body parts sale.”
“We’ll see where it takes us,” she added, when I asked about the effort’s scope. “I think it’s inappropriate to predetermine what a committee is going to do, because it’s not formulated yet.”
This investigation won’t be the only one.
Two other committees are investigating the organization, along with Oversight and Government Reform: the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Judiciary Committee, according to a press release from Speaker John Boehner’s office.
If that sounds a bit like the House’s investigation of how the White House handled the 2012 terrorist attacks on the Benghazi consulate, it’s because it is.
That select committee has long drawn scorching criticism, including from some conservatives who have argued it isn’t working fast enough. But it also netted Republicans one of their biggest wins of the last year: the discovery that Hillary Clinton used a personal email address on a private server as Secretary of State. That find generated a cascade of terrible news for the now-candidate.
Some Republicans have struggled to defend that committee’s efforts as apolitical. On Fox News’ Hannity, Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy pointed to Clinton’s sagging poll numbers as evidence of the committee’s success.
“What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win,” he said. “And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
McCarthy’s implication: The Benghazi committee was just a political tool—and a highly effective one, at that. The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee said the Planned Parenthood efforts would share that motive.
“The parallel is, this is going to be one endless investigation,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the committee. “That’s what the parallel is.”