WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leadership is considering boycotting a newly established congressional committee to investigate the medical practices of abortion providers, though it is more likely they will participate as a defensive measure.
Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced appointments Friday to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Select Investigative Panel, which will look into the practice of fetal tissue donations by Planned Parenthood (or as the press release puts it, “focus on the abhorrent practices of big abortion providers”).
Boehner placed eight Republican lawmakers on the committee, including four women. One of those four, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will serve as the committee chair.
The announcement of the committee places Democrats in a conundrum similar to the one they faced when Boehner created the select committee to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi. They could boycott the committee as a means of tagging it as a strictly partisan enterprise. Or they could place lawmakers there in hopes of keeping tabs on the committee’s investigation.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) told The Huffington Post that leadership is currently weighing the pros and the cons of participation. Citing the benefits gained from being on the Benghazi committee, Becerra hinted that the party would likely end up participating.
“You hate to disengage when that’s your job. You hate to not be on the field. You don’t want to ever disarm unilaterally. But it is still a farce, so…” Becerra said, trailing off. “Benghazi makes it clear what you are looking at. For those who wish to be responsible with our government, who believe our government is supposed to be doing oversight under the Constitution and really try to fulfill our role, it is tough to say that we are just going to distance ourselves because we know it is a political show.”
Democratic lawmakers have, by and large, been supportive of Planned Parenthood after carefully edited videos purported to show the organization illegally selling fetal tissue. The group has argued that the videos are doctored to show officials trying to profit off the practice, which is restricted under law. And Planned Parenthood has unilaterally stopped collecting reimbursement for the costs of processing and transporting fetal tissues.
Still, Republicans have alleged gross wrongdoing and called for an end of all federal reimbursements to the organization. A committee is already investigating Planned Parenthood's use of federal funds, though its chairman said he has found no wrongdoing.
The select committee established by Boehner was meant to placate conservatives in his party who wanted to shut down the government unless legislators ended funding for Planned Parenthood. In addition to Blackburn, the Republicans on the committee are Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-M0.), and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah).
When Boehner created the select committee to investigate Benghazi, parts of the Democratic base encouraged the party's leadership to boycott. But the decision to appoint members appears to have paid off, with access to witness interviews and a better ability to respond to attacks lobbed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The benefits have been strong enough that leadership has said it will keep its remaining membership intact, even as it calls for the committee to be disbanded following Clinton's 11-hour testimony on Thursday.
A decision on whether to participate in the Planned Parenthood committee should come soon, a Democratic aide told HuffPost.