Washington -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) thinks Republican leaders are bluffing when they say they want to defund Planned Parenthood, so he is enlisting Christian pastors across the nation to help mobilize voters to force his colleagues' hands and threaten a government shutdown.
Cruz implored more than a thousand pastors and religious leaders on Tuesday to "preach from the pulpit" against Planned Parenthood and rally public support for an amendment defunding the family provider in the must-pass federal budget bill in November. If Congress attaches the defunding amendment to the budget instead of holding a vote on the standalone bill, it cannot keep funding Planned Parenthood without shutting down the whole federal government.
"Here is the challenge," the presidential hopeful explained on the national conference call. "The leadership of both parties, both the Democrats and Republicans, want an empty show vote. They want a vote on Planned Parenthood that has no teeth or no consequence, which allows Republicans to vote for defunding, Democrats to vote for continuing funding, and nothing to change. But the leadership of both parties have publicly said they do not want the vote tied to any legislation that must pass."
Senate Republicans held one such "show vote" on defunding Planned Parenthood earlier this month, and Democrats predictably blocked it. GOP leaders are reportedly hoping to avoid the embarrassment of a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding and are searching for an alternate plan.
“We’ve been down this path before,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters earlier this month. “This is a tactic that’s been tried going back to the ’90s, frequently by Republican majorities that always have the same ending: that the focus is on the fact that the government is shut down, not on what the underlying issue that is being protested is."
Cruz said pastors should tell their congregations to call their members of Congress and insist that Republicans use the federal budget to defund Planned Parenthood. He said it would be President Barack Obama's fault if the government shuts down -- not the GOP's.
"It will be a decision of the president's and the president's alone whether he would veto funding for the federal government because of a commitment to ensuring taxpayer dollars continue to flow to what appears to be a national criminal organization," Cruz said.
Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million in annual public funding, which it uses to provide family planning services and Medicaid reimbursements to low-income patients. Abortions at Planned Parenthood are paid for separately -- the Hyde Amendment has prevented taxpayer dollars from being used toward abortions for more than four decades.
Cruz said his escalating crusade against Planned Parenthood was inspired by a recent series of undercover videos showing the family planning provider engaged in the donation of fetal tissue for medical research after abortions. He said the videos "show the face of evil," because they feature doctors discussing reimbursement costs for fetal tissue donations at lunch over salad and wine.
Cruz and other Republicans have accused Planned Parenthood of selling the parts for profit, a charge the family planning provider denies. Multiple states conducted investigations into Planned Parenthood's activities in light of those videos, and none of those investigations have found any illegal activities.
But Republicans have been talking about defunding Planned Parenthood since long before the videos were released. Cruz told pastors their congregations could make an "enormous difference" by calling their members of Congress and holding them to their campaign promises.
"We have a moment where we can stand together and act, and all we need is for our elected leaders to actually do what they said they would do," Cruz said. "They campaigned promising to defend the right to life. Now is the moment where we distinguish word from action."