THIS PAST TUESDAY, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee heard testimony from President of Planned Parenthood, Cecil Richards. This hearing was part of the ongoing investigation to determine whether or not to strip the non-profit organization of its government funding. Among the bi-partisan members of the committee, the Democrats who spoke praised the 99-year-old organization for its deeply-valued public service to women all over the country. The Republicans, on the other hand, badgered President Richards about PP’s services, budget, and how women’s healthcare actually works. The hearing was long, at certain times uncomfortable, and simply laughable at others – it’s the 21st century and we’re still questioning the importance of women’s gynecological needs? I know, it’s hysterical. As in, I’m laughing hysterically because I just can’t believe it.
The hearing played out like a Salem witch trial meets a boxing match – the representatives sparring back and forth (each with five minutes to speak and ask questions) about the legality of abortion and fetal tissue research/donation (both of which are already legal and have been for many years), while Richards was left swinging between the blows. When she wasn’t busy being cut off or interrupted, she valiantly fought for the cause of the 390,000 women who would be left without healthcare if Planned Parenthood’s funding was indeed cut off.
For those of you who were unable to watch the tedious five-hour hearing, pull up a chair (or stay seated), and grab some popcorn. Here are the highlights you missed.
And full disclosure to the reader: I support Planned Parenthood.
The hearing began with opening statements from the Committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who within the first five minutes was shedding tears about his love for women and the effects cancer has had on his family. In psychological theory or around high school lunch tables, this tactic is called “playing the victim.”
“The prime thrust of this hearing,” he said, “is about the finances.” OK, OK. His intentions seem straightforward.
Rep. Chaffetz then handed the floor over to co-ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland). Cummings outlined the key facts, i.e. that fetal tissue donation and research has been legal since Ronald Reagan’s Blue Ribbon Panel of 1988, PP receives less than 1% of federal funding for fetal tissue research, and that abortion is legal.
He then asked a big question to the Republican members: “Do you really want to do this? Align yourself with radical extremists who manipulate the facts?”
This bet will soon be called, and raised by the Republicans. Oh yes.
Sub-committee chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) then made his opening remarks and touched on how money fueled political groups and organizations like PP dictate policy. Duh. Has he heard of the NRA? Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, gave her opening remarks, including the impassioned statement: “Make no mistake about it, Republicans are doubling down on their war against women.”
Following Richards opening remarks, Chairman Chaffetz kicked off the real questioning. When Richards began to answer his first few questions, he said “we don’t have time for a big narrative. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ answers.” Nice, way to pull out the antagonistic big guns early. He then brought up Richards’ salary, questioning her six-figure income.
Chaffetz finished by bringing up a PowerPoint slide called “Abortions Up, Life-Saving Procedures Down,” never before seen by President Richards and sourced from Americans United for Life (an anti-abortion organization) “Check your source,” advised Richards. Right-hook from the lady.
Rep. Cummings then took the floor and swung back at Chairman Chaffetz’s scrutiny over Ms. Richards’ salary. “I find it hypocritical that Republicans criticize the salaries of PP employees when you have violated no laws, especially while these same Republicans ignore the CEOs of huge companies that are actually guilty of breaking the law.” Oh snap. He referenced JP Morgan, CitiBank, and other major banks that plead guilty to financial corruption, and although they were fined billions of dollars the companies were never stripped of federal support. He also mentioned that the CEO of Johnson & Johnson raked in $25 million salary last year, regardless of the company’s alleged illegal activity (which received no congressional investigation). Touché.
Then Rep. Jim Jordan called Cummings’ opening bet by throwing the second low-blow Republican punch. He asked President Richards why she publicly apologized for the videos — those awful videos that Carly Fiorina waxed poetic on at the second GOP debate. FYI, those videos were proven to have been heavily produced and edited by PP hater, David Deleidan, and featured Holly O’Donnell talking about “brain harvesting,” a person not even employed at PP. Jordan didn’t seem to care about Richards’ answer, as he wagged his finger and interrupted her. Ms. Richards remained calm and collected, and just let him huff and puff it out. Cue Tom Jones: She’s a lady, whoa whoa whoa, she’s a lady.
The questions continued to ping-pong back and forth from Democrats to Republicans. It was like changing the channels from a Twilight Zone PSA filled with condescending Southern accents, to a heated progressive rally with a lot of frustrated, yet sensitive, men and (primarily) women.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) noted that, based on a Wall Street Journal poll, 65% of the public supports Planned Parenthood. Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) said: “If you asked most people, they don’t want to pay for abortions.” But he wouldn’t let Richards correct him, when she started to say that only federal funding goes to very specific abortion cases (i.e. rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger).
The tension in the room continued to build. And then Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia) came out blowing his whistle like a teacher during recess. “Look at how you’ve been treated as a witness. Intimidation, talking over, cutting off sentences, criticizing you because of your salary… what’s America coming to? The misogyny going on here today tells us what’s really going on.”
Connolly then gave President Richards the floor so she could fill them in some of the facts. For instance, 2.7 million Americans rely on Planned Parenthood, many of them making that choice deliberately because of the “quality healthcare services” that PP provides, explained Richards.
More members spoke/asked questions/interrupted President Richards. Including Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) who couldn’t understand that Medicaid is based on a medical reimbursement program for PP. It’s not like the government just hands over an annual check to PP. They only receive money for the services conducted.
Then Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) chimed in to make sense of what he was hearing. “Having sat here for the last hour-and-a-half, I feel like I’m in some bizarre alternate universe… I think it’s crazy we’re having this discussion when fetal tissue donation is perfectly legal and has bi-partisan support.”
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) said: “I was a dentist, so I understand reimbursement rates.”
President Richards threw back: “Then you should understand how Medicaid works.”
Gosar interjected: “This is my time so don’t interrupt it… what you’ve [PP] have done is narrow the focus and you’re profiting off death.” Richards wasn’t able to respond because his time was up.
Round 5 (it’s only been 2 hours)
And Rep. Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) was called to speak next. She started by thanking Ms. Richards” for enduring what I consider to be a very offensive approach on the part of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
More confusion was expressed from Republicans about the differences between profits and revenues and how fundraising works.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania) brought up the fact if PP were to be defunded, the number of abortions would increase to around 40%, and 390,000 women would lose their primary health care.
“If a child survives an abortion attempt, should it be given nourishment and medical care?” asked Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida).
“I’ve never heard of such a circumstance happening,” said Richards.
The questions went back to fetal tissue donation. Richards offered to read the fetal tissue donation policy, but DeSantis motioned a “not necessary.” Because you know, facts, they’re not important.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) swooped in next with: “What PP is doing is consistent with the law… we’re now having an argument about a video that has been redacted and doctored. There’s no disputing that.”
Rep. Mark Walker (R-North Carolina) then started his questions with: “I’m married to a strong lady.” Richards smiled and nodded.
Then things started to get weird(er). Democrats continued their more sympathetic line of questioning of President Richards, and the Republicans kept stuffing their fingers in their ears and asking the same questions over and over again.
Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Georgia) brought up the salary discussion again. “Richards was compensated $590,00 for her annual salary set by the board of directors. Correct? Yes,” he said.
“Well I think you just answered your own question,” replied Richards.
A condo in NYC was mentioned. “Why don’t you send them [patients] to one of those 70-million-dollar condos in New York city to get care?”
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-South Carolina): “You spend 21 million dollars on lobbying but no money on mammograms?” He went on: “You’re aware that there are people running for president saying you do perform mammograms?”
“There are a number of people running for president saying a lot of things,” Richards said.
Rep. Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R- South Carolina) reiterated their pro-life stance. Gowdy asked: “Do you understand that some of us disagree with you on abortion?”
“That’s a political formulation, not a medical formulation,” said Richards.
“My question wasn’t about the law,” said Gowdy. Mmmmmk.
“We don’t believe women’s health should be a partisan issue,” Richards calmly stated.
“Well, we have a problem with drinking wine and eating dinner salads while discussing infanticide,” said Gowdy.
Round 7 (In the 5th hour)
And now the end was near. All the congressional members had spoken. Richards started sounding like a broken record when she kept repeating the fact that PP doesn’t get a billion-dollar check from the government.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney wanted to ask a few more questions on the record. He brought up the fetal tissue question and asked if federal funds had been used in this program. Richards responded, and Mulvaney started getting testy. He didn’t like her answer. Richards kept pushing.
And then Mulvaney summed up the entire tone of the hearing with one more ridiculous question.
“By the way, who’s the bald guy sitting behind you?” he asked, referring to a man who kept whispering into Richards’ ear throughout the hearing.
“That’s my lawyer,” Richards said.
And these are the people who decide how our country will be run, ladies and gentlemen.