The embattled Planned Parenthood organization should answer questions prompted by videos discussing sales of fetal tissue, or face defunding, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers told a crowd assembled for her annual town hall meeting in Spokane on Tuesday.
“I believe that we need to investigate. We need to better understand what they’re doing,” McMorris Rodgers said. “From what I’ve seen, these are illegal activities in which they are involved.”
In an hourlong question-and-answer session that remained largely cordial, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference responded to questions about a proposed nuclear deal with Iran, rising prescription drug costs and the likelihood of passing a federal budget in a Congress facing several key decisions when it reconvenes next month.
The conversation remained focused mostly on issues, not the divisiveness that has continued to drive down public trust of lawmakers.
Though the rift between the parties was not mentioned, that didn’t mean it wasn’t on the minds of the hundred or so in attendance at the Lincoln Center. Joe Green, of Spokane, asked McMorris Rodgers if she thought Congress would move past “governing by crisis” in the fall and work together to pass a budget, given the divisiveness of issues such as Planned Parenthood funding and the Iran deal.
McMorris Rodgers said legislators shouldn’t be “governing by crisis” and that lawmakers should “be at the table right now” to pass spending bills. She said earlier in the evening she would support a balanced budget requirement in federal law, “if I had a magic wand.”
“I will highlight, again, that we got our budget in place – an agreement between the House and the Senate – in April,” the congresswoman said.
Green said he was unimpressed with McMorris Rodgers’ answer, and with the finger-pointing that often occurs in Washington, D.C.
“That does not instill confidence in me,” Green said.
McMorris Rodgers’ call for an investigation into Planned Parenthood drew some of the biggest applause from supporters, many of whom showed up in T-shirts and with stickers, and waved campaign signs. Others brought to the town hall signs for Joe Pakootas, the Democratic candidate whom McMorris Rodgers defeated easily at the polls in November. Pakootas has announced a bid to challenge her again next year.
The reproductive services group has come under fire after undercover videos appeared to show top officials discussing sales of tissue from aborted fetuses.
“If Planned Parenthood is not willing to cooperate, then we should take action to defund Planned Parenthood,” McMorris Rodgers said, to prolonged applause.
The group called the videos “heavily edited” productions from a group with a political agenda in a statement released last month, after the videos went public. Planned Parenthood denied selling, for profit, tissue donated at abortion clinics in that statement.
Two of the 19 questions McMorris Rodgers responded to dealt with President Barack Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran. The congresswoman said the agreement put too much faith in the Iranian government to honor provisions about weapons, and that sanctions should have been decided by Congress, not the White House.
“I want some confidence that Iran is not going to have a nuclear weapon,” McMorris Rodgers said, as an attendee from the crowd asked specifically what she was looking for.
“This is a country where their leadership has proven not to be trustworthy,” she continued.
Several in attendance also asked about funding for a cure for pancreatic cancer. McMorris Rodgers said lawmakers are lobbied by many groups to put more money into funding research to cure a particular disease and that Congress is hesitant to change funding structures based on who has the loudest voice.
“They don’t want it to become political. They don’t want it to become just whatever group can raise the most money or raise the awareness and get people like us to vote for it,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers said reforms to the way the National Institutes of Health approaches its funding decisions would ensure more efficient funding to find cures for diseases, pointing to a package of legislation she’s co-sponsored called the 21st Century Cures Act.
The congresswoman concluded her remarks by honoring Spokane County Veterans Services Director Chuck Elmore for his work.