The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats: The GOP’s ‘war on women’ is back

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (center) talks to reporters with (L-R) Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) following the Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will not move on to a vote to confirm Loretta Lynch, the nominee to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder, until the Senate votes on the sex trafficking bill. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Republican "war on women" has returned, Democratic senators and women's groups proclaimed Wednesday -- returning to a message that resonated for Democrats in 2012 but seemed to falter more recently.

The message, delivered by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and others at a morning event at the Capitol, comes as the Senate continues to debate a bill that would stiffen penalties for the perpetrators of human trafficking and establish new resources for its victims. The bill is now stuck amid a heated debate over anti-abortion language embedded in the bill, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged not to hold a vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until the deadlock is resolved.

The combination of abortion politics and the stymied confirmation of the nation's second woman attorney general has Democrats gleefully re-embracing the narrative that helped keep the Senate in their hands back in 2012.

"It feels like every time we turn around and start making progress, whether it's on passing a budget a couple of years ago or whether it's today on trying to pass this trafficking bill, that women have to take a step backwards in order for the Republicans to accept us moving forward," Murray said. "I call that a war on women."

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, called the deadlock a "dramatic escalation of the Republican leadership's war on women."

After all but four Senate Democrats voted to filibuster the anti-trafficking bill over the abortion provision Tuesday, McConnell pledged to continue debate until the deadlock is broken -- thus pushing back the Lynch confirmation vote, perhaps until April. He invited two women senators, Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.V.), to an afternoon news conference to call on Democrats to move forward, noting that the abortion language in the anti-trafficking bill, which would restrict spending from a victims compensation fund, is identical to the long-standing Hyde Amendment that has been attached to appropriations measures since 1974 and has gotten Democratic support as recently as December.

As for Lynch, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Wednesday, "The only thing holding up that vote is the Democrats’ filibuster of a bill that would help prevent kids from being sold into sex slavery. The sooner they allow the Senate to pass that bipartisan bill, the sooner the Senate can move to the Lynch nomination."

The women who gathered in the Capitol Wednesday were decidedly uninterested in explaining how the anti-trafficking bill managed to pass through the Judiciary Committee last month without a single Democratic senator objecting to the abortion provision, which had been embedded in the bill introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) since January, even if Republican staffers may not have alerted their Democratic colleagues to it.

They preferred to rail against McConnell and his new Republican majority.

"This egregious delay is all in the name of scoring political points by catering to the extreme right wing of the Republican party," Baldwin said. "We are not even three months into this new Congress, and the new majority has done nothing bur play partisan politics with some of our nation's most critical issues."

"Mitch McConnell needs to stop playing politics with women's health care and with women's advancement in this country," O'Neill added.

And, should there be any doubt that the "war on women" narrative, will play into the 2016 presidential race, consider these tweets from likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton: