It was her first congressional hearing since an antiabortion advocacy group released videos this summer showing Planned Parenthood officials talking in cavalier terms about using fetal tissue for research. The videos implied that the officials were illegally selling the tissue for profit; Planned Parenthood officials say that the videos were heavily edited and that they did nothing wrong, as donating tissue for research is legal.
The videos reignited the religious right's antiabortion rights base, and Republicans in Congress and those running for president subsequently demanded that Planned Parenthood lose its federal funding (which cannot be legally used for most abortions).
A group of about 30 conservatives even threatened to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood lost its funding. That is unlikely to happen this week, but what they got instead was a high-profile congressional hearing to air their grievances directly to Planned Parenthood's No. 1.
And Republicans have an incentive to make hearings like these as contentious as possible. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is just one of four congressional panels looking into Planned Parenthood's federal funding, and if the momentum continues, defunding the organization could be a sticking point come December, when another budget showdown is expected.
With stakes that high, the debate was as emotional and dramatic as you might expect.
Here are the five most contentious moments from Richards's appearance on Capitol Hill.
1. How much money Richards makes
In his opening statement, committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he doesn't think Planned Parenthood needs federal subsidies; just look at Richards's salary, he said.
"I could be here a long time listing out fairly exorbitant salaries," he said.
When it was time to ask Richards questions, Chaffetz hammered the Planned Parenthood president on her salary. Here's an excerpt:
CHAFFETZ: Your compensation in 2009 was $353,000. Is that correct?RICHARDS: I don't have the figures with me. But …CHAFFETZ: It was. Congratulations. In 2013, your compensation went up some $240,000. Your compensation, we're showing based on tax returns, is $590,000, correct?RICHARDS: That's not my annual compensation. I — actually, my annual compensation is $520,000 a year. I believe there was a program that the board sort of put together for a three-year — I'm happy — again, I think we have been extremely forthcoming with all of our documents.
The exchange seriously upset Democrats in the room.
When it was her turn to speak, Rep. Carol Maloney (D-N.Y.) said, "In my entire time I've been in Congress, I've never seen a witness beaten up and questioned about their salary" — and especially a woman, she said. "I find it totally inappropriate and discriminatory."
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) accused his Republican colleagues of "misogyny" and said he hoped that every American woman was watching the hearing.
"My colleagues say there is no war on women," he said. "Look at how you've been treated, Ms. Richards."
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) also criticized Republicans' "offensive approach" and accused the GOP of holding the hearing for "specious reasons."
Republicans replied that taxpayers have every right to know how their money is being spent at an organization that conducts abortions and receives federal funding.
2. A throwdown with Chaffetz over data
Chaffetz, who took the gavel for this often politically contentious committee at the start of the new Congress in January, put up a chart that purported to show Planned Parenthood's breast cancer screenings going down over time as the number of its abortions spiked.
Richards appeared flummoxed, saying she didn't know where those numbers came from.
"You're going to deny?" Chaffetz incredulously replied.
Richards said she would deny those numbers because she'd never seen them.
With every exchange, Richards and Chaffetz raised their voices until both were practically yelling over each other.
Chaffetz told her he pulled them from her corporate reports. "Oh," Richards said, appearing deflated.
Then staff behind Richards leaned over to whisper into her ear. She interrupted Chaffetz.
"Excuse me, my lawyer is informing me that the source of this is actually Americans United for Life, which is an antiabortion group," she said. "So, I would check your source."
It was Chaffetz's turn to appear deflated. "Then we will get to the bottom of the truth of that," he said.
3. What was Planned Parenthood apologizing for?
After the first set of videos was released, Richards issued an apology for the tone officials and doctors used when discussing the fetal tissue. But Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wanted to know specifically what she was apologizing for.
"If this was all entrapment, why'd you apologize?" he asked.
Jordan then interrupted Richards's explanation several times as she maintained that the videos were heavily edited. Finally, Richards replied that she apologized because "it was bad judgment to have a clinical discussion in a non-clinical setting."
Jordan wasn't satisifed.
"Why didn't you say that?" he wondered.
RICHARDS: "We may have to agree to disagree on this matter."
JORDAN: "I don't think we're agreeing to disagree. I think you're not answering my question."
RICHARDS: "I think I've answered it repeatedly."
The two kept interrupting each other, their voices rising, until Jordan's time ran out (in a congressional hearing, each lawmaker has approximately five minutes to ask the witness questions).
"You've had your moment," Richards said, before getting in the last word, whereby she wanted to state publicly that the Planned Parenthood doctor in the video "provides incredibly passionate care, and I'm proud of her."
4. Comparing Richards to a criminal
No, Richards wasn't quite done answering questions about her apology.
If she wouldn't clarify her apology, Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) wanted to know whether she defends the sale of fetal tissue. Richards's reply led Duncan to make a startling comparison.
RICHARDS: No, and I think that is really a total mischaracterization. Fetal tissue research, which as I mentioned, was started — the whole commission that legalized and — and created the structure under fetal tissue research was started under the Reagan administration. And it is actually — what it does is facilitates fetal tissue donation and that is actually, as I said — fewer than 1 percent of our health centers, do any facilitate fetal tissue donation for the patient. But fetal tissue research has read...DUNCAN: My time -- my time has run out. I just want to say this: It seems to me that the apology you offered was like what some criminals do. They're not really sorry for what they have done. They are sorry they got caught and it seems to me that your apology is more because you got caught on these videos. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.RICHARDS: I respectfully disagree.
5. Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions
Tuesday's hearing was full of back-and-forth between Richards and mostly Republican lawmakers. Many lawmakers cut Richards off when they thought she wasn't addressing their question, and Richards in turn sometimes spoke over lawmakers to get her point across.
Here's one exchange between Richards and Chaffetz that was typical of the day:
CHAFFETZ: Thank you. I now recognize myself for five minutes. Ms. Richards, Planned Parenthood has sent $32-plus million in grants overseas. Does any of the funds go to the Democratic Republican of the Congo?RICHARDS: Congressman, let me ...CHAFFETZ: No, no, no. We don't have time for a narrative. I just want to know ...(CROSSTALK)CHAFFETZ: Yes or no?RICHARDS: You asked me a question. Any of the money that is — Planned Parenthood raises and is given by foundations and individuals to support family planning services is in Africa and Latin America, and they go to individual organizations.
And here's another between Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) and Richards. Love was inquiring about Medicaid patients who use Planned Parenthood clinics:
LOVE: There is no reason why we can't provide those options elsewhere, where people can have their choice as to where they go.RICHARDS: Exactly. Congresswoman, I think, actually, this may be an area where you and I agree.LOVE: My time is up. But Mr. Chairman, I would — if you could ...RICHARDS: I would like a chance to answer the question.LOVE: You did, actually, you answered my questions.
Due to a typographical error, this story originally misstated whether federal funds can be used for abortions. Federal funds cannot be used for abortions in most cases.