As Shutdown Drags On, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Has One Simple Question

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.
It is the 27th day of President Trump's government shutdown. TSA agents forced to work without pay are quitting their jobs, the national parks are a mess, and federal workers are selling their stuff and living off crowdfunding.
And New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is looking for Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — whose priority, rather than reopening the government, has been an anti-abortion bill that would disproportionately affect lower-income women. At least it's on-brand for him. [Ed. note: Reader, his efforts have failed. For now, at least.]
On Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez and other freshmen Democrats, including Rep. Jahana Hayes, Rep. Lauren Underwood, and Rep. Katie Hill, went looking for Sen. McConnell in order to hand him a letter demanding to end the shutdown. Ocasio-Cortez documented their fruitless search on Twitter with the hashtag #WheresMitch.
No one knew where Mitch was, but one thing that's for sure is that the Kentucky Republican was not prioritizing federal employees. He has repeatedly rejected deals that do not include funding for Trump's sad, xenophobic pet project Mexican-border wall, and he's blamed the shutdown on Democrats, framing the wall as a border-security issue even though there is no reason for it to be the be-all and end-all of immigration policy. Essentially, he's going along with Trump's temper tantrum. While hiding.
In the meantime, Sen. McConnell busied himself with legislation that would significantly chip away at women's reproductive rights. On Wednesday, he filed cloture on S.109, a bill that would make the prohibitions on federal funding for most abortions permanent. [Ed. note: Federal law already effectively blocks taxpayer money from funding abortions.]
He lost this one.
But symbolically, he was clearly making an overture to his base ahead of Friday's annual anti-abortion rally March for Life in Washington, D.C., which he lovingly called "one of the nation's proudest examples of peaceful activism" on the Senate floor.
The bill would: 1) Make the Hyde Amendment permanent. The Hyde Amendment passes annually and keeps Medicaid dollars from covering abortion with the exceptions of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life. 2) Prohibit abortion through federal programs and in federal health facilities. 3) Ban subsidized Affordable Care Act plans from providing abortion coverage. 4) Make permanent the ban on D.C. from using its own tax dollars to fund abortions for lower-income women.
"This bill would eliminate any private coverage for abortion," Kalen Pruss, policy director of the Democratic National Committee, explained in an interview with Refinery29. "The standard now is that private healthcare plans include abortion. This uses the legal structure of the ACA to eliminate abortion coverage. It says that any plan that includes abortion coverage wouldn't qualify as a healthcare plan under the ACA. They're functionally forcing all insurance plans to stop providing abortion coverage."
Thursday's setback won't stop Sen. McConnell and co. from continuing to trample over women's rights — and distracting from the deeply unpopular government shutdown. "How insane is it that this is the distraction tactic McConnell chose on the 26th day of the government shutdown?" Elizabeth Renda, the DNC's women's media director, told Refinery29. "The fact that the focus is an anti-abortion bill is so outrageous. Meanwhile, he is refusing to bring anything to the floor that could help reopen the government."
The opposition to the Republicans' anti-choice attacks is more robust than ever: According to ThinkProgress' analysis, a record number of members of Congress support repealing the Hyde Amendment.
"You can't discount the fact that there are more women in Congress than ever before," said Renda. "There's a lot of passion out there and a lot of powerful women taking office. They can be a voice on issues that affect women in a way that male politicians just can't."
Reproductive-rights advocates praised the Senate for voting down Sen. McConnell's antics, but know that the fight is far from over.
"Instead of bringing forward a vote to end the government shutdown, the Senate once again engaged in the offensive, antiquated, and frankly embarrassing exercise of playing politics with women’s healthcare," Susan Inman, chief counsel for federal policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "They knew this vote would fail, because it’s not what the majority of the population wants, but they did it anyway. We applaud those who voted against the bill for recognizing that our lawmakers should be protecting and expanding access to healthcare, not taking away coverage and pushing healthcare further out of reach for many more."

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