- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Senate unanimously passed anti-human trafficking legislation Wednesday, overcoming a weekslong stalemate over abortion-funding language in what all sides declared a bipartisan victory.

The 99-0 vote also clears the way for a final vote Thursday on Loretta Lynch, whose nomination to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has languished as Republicans insisted the trafficking bill be completed first.

Senators had deadlocked over restitution funds designed to assist victims of trafficking, with Republicans insisting none of the money be used to pay for abortions, in keeping with a long-standing ban on federal funding for the procedure. Democrats objected, saying the ban applies to taxpayer funds but shouldn’t cover fines collected from traffickers.

The standoff had gummed up the chamber for weeks, vexing Democrats as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to relent on the pro-life language, known as the “Hyde amendment,” or take up Ms. Lynch’s nomination until it passed.

Earlier this week senators figured out a compromise: The penalties collected from traffickers would go to pay for legal aid and other nonhealth programs, while health assistance for victims would be paid for out of an existing fund that already includes the ban on abortion spending.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long,” Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said. “But I am very pleased that we were able to work together, find common ground and reach an agreement.”

Democrats said they’d won the fight because the bill doesn’t include new abortion restrictions. But Republicans said the bill has the same effect now as it did before, with no federal money flowing to cover abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger.

The flap was embarrassing for Democrats, many of whom voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee, even with the abortion restrictions included.

Some explained their about-face by saying they never read the bill, while some staffers reportedly acknowledged they’d been aware of the Hyde language but hadn’t objected until pro-choice groups demanded a fight.

Those groups argued that applying fines was an expansion of the Hyde restrictions, which they said had previously only applied to money collected from taxpayers. Republicans countered that the Hyde restrictions applied to all federal funding.

The Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, that would have expunged the Hyde restrictions altogether, allowing federal money to flow toward abortions. That was defeated on a 43-55 vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is running for president, was the only senator who did not vote on the trafficking measure Wednesday.

The bipartisanship of Wednesday’s trafficking vote is likely to turn into a deep partisan divide Thursday when the Senate votes on Ms. Lynch, who would be the first black female to head the Justice Department. She appears to have enough votes for confirmation, though by a slim margin.

Many conservatives have said they’ll vote against her, citing her defense of the legality of Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty as evidence she will not be an independent constitutional referee holding the president in check.

Other Republicans are clamoring for a fresh face at the Justice Department, saying it’s time to usher Mr. Holder out the door.

“I think we need to turn the page on Eric Holder,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said. “He’s still there.”

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