The White House won’t answer questions about a meeting last week between Vice President Mike Pence and anti-choice advocates, even though some of the advocates are clearly identifiable in a photo posted from the vice president’s official Twitter account.
Pence and the advocates reaffirmed President Trump’s “commitment to the sanctity of life” amid plans to strip at least 22 million people of health care and discount reproductive health care entirely, according to the tweet.
Neither Pence’s daily schedule nor White House pool reports from reporters on duty at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue disclosed the sit-down—meaning that, in all likelihood, it would have gone unreported without a signal boost from the vice president’s office.
Pence spokesperson Mark Lotter refused to supply further details.
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“It was a private meeting so we are not providing a readout or list of attendees,” Lotter said in an email.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) July 5, 2017
Lotter did not respond to follow-up requests asking why a private meeting was publicized on Twitter.
The photo clearly identifies Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List President Marjorie Dannenfelser and Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance, who posted a separate close-up to her Instagram account. A third attendee, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, retweeted Pence.
It was an honor to be there. Thank you for your leadership. https://t.co/Le4o1bzhsM
— Jeanne F. Mancini (@jeannemfl) July 5, 2017
“We met with the Vice President to talk with him about our pro-life priorities for the healthcare bill,” Mancini told Rewire in an emailed statement.
Pence hasn’t been shy about his ire for reproductive rights, vowing during the campaign to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.” The Pence-aligned U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is moving to undercut Obamacare’s popular birth control benefit under virulently anti-choice Secretary Tom Price, who believes “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford contraception.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are focusing on anti-choice priorities in their embattled efforts to repeal President Obama’s signature health-care reform law. GOP lawmakers want to cut off Planned Parenthood from Medicaid reimbursements—and Medicaid beneficiaries from accessing potentially life-saving care, including cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing, and contraceptive services, at Planned Parenthood affiliates. People with private insurance face abortion restrictions that their counterparts on Medicaid have long experienced under the discriminatory Hyde Amendment.
Both the U.S. House of Representatives-passed American Health Care Act and the U.S. Senate-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act target Planned Parenthood and abortion coverage. But overtly partisan restrictions could violate the rules of the special fast-track “budget reconciliation” process Republicans are using to pass a repeal bill in the Senate with a simple 51-vote majority, rather than the 60 votes typically needed in that chamber for controversial legislation.
The Senate parliamentarian, the arbiter of the chamber’s rules and procedures, reportedly warned Republicans about the abortion restrictions. Many Senate aides believe that Republicans’ intent to defund Planned Parenthood, and only Planned Parenthood, similarly doesn’t pass muster.
Anti-choice groups are worried that the parliamentarian will ultimately rule against the provisions.
Susan B. Anthony List spokesperson Mallory Quigley wouldn’t say what Dannenfelser discussed with Pence. Quigley did, however, refer Rewire to a June 23 SBA List joint statement with the Family Research Council—an anti-LGBTQ hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—expressing their concern “that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons.”
“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would only say that “discussions with CBO [Congressional Budget Office], the Parliamentarian and others will continue.”
“Reconciliation bills require a lot of conversations,” the spokesperson, Don Stewart, said in an email.
SBA List and March for Life ignored requests for specific details on the meeting with Pence and any discussions with Senate Republicans. Concerned Women for America didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
McConnell is revising the underlying Senate bill to appease far-right and rank-and-file members alike. He can only afford to lose two Republicans and bring in Pence to break a tie, as the vice president did when he delivered the death knell to Obama-era family planning safeguards.
Politico reported that McConnell could release the new bill by Thursday. The CBO could score, or price, the bill by Monday.