GOP pragmatists protest tea party shutdown tactics

Mitch McConnell
In this Sept. 16, 2015, photo, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks about a government shutdown during a news conference after a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican leaders face stark tests as they fight to keep the government open past month's end, amid fears a shutdown could crush their party's White House ambitions. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers are increasingly protesting the tactics of tea party colleagues who demand that legislation to keep the government open also take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Eleven GOP House freshmen — several facing difficult re-election races next year in Democratic-leaning districts — say they support a short-term funding bill needed to guarantee the government won’t shut down next week. But they oppose a shutdown confrontation over Planned Parenthood, which is under intense criticism for undercover videos that raise questions about its practice of supplying fetal tissue for scientific research.

A “Dear Colleague” letter by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello promises to “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past” — a reference to the GOP-sparked 2013 shutdown over implementation of the new health care law.

“We are writing today to express our strong support for a funding resolution that will avoid another unnecessary and harmful government shutdown,” the GOP freshmen wrote.

The eleven said they were “elected by our constituents to be principled, pragmatic leaders.”

Wednesday’s letter came as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., criticized the tea party’s strategy — most strongly backed by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — in a speech on the Senate floor.

“I’m tired of the people on my side of the aisle who have been pushing this strategy even though they know they don’t have the votes,” Ayotte said Tuesday. “They can’t answer the question, ‘What’s the end game for success?'”

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on a measure that would fund the government through Dec. 11 and try to “defund” Planned Parenthood. Its expected failure at the hands of filibustering Democrats would then set the stage for a vote on a more traditional temporary funding bill that would be free of the Planned Parenthood controversy.

The plans of House leaders such as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who often struggles to control his divided GOP conference, remain unclear.

On Wednesday, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said a noncontroversial stopgap measure would likely enjoy the support of Democrats.

“We aren’t for burning down the House. We’re for fixing the House,” Hoyer said. “There are a lot of Republicans who are for burning down the House if they don’t get their way. We don’t think that’s a responsible alternative.”

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