Senior Senate Democrat Opens Talks With Architect of Planned Parenthood Smear Campaign

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) met with David Daleiden, who has worked with GOP lawmakers to erroneously accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations.

Manchin joins other top Democrats, both on and off the Hill, in extending an olive branch to anti-choice candidates, lawmakers, and organizations. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

As Democratic leaders make overtures to open the “big tent” to anti-choice politicians, one of their own is obtaining counsel from the anti-choice fringe in the form of David Daleiden.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a member of the leadership team in the U.S. Senate, recently met in his Capitol Hill office with Daleiden and representatives from Students for Life of America. Daleiden and company attempted to convince Manchin, one of the party’s few abortion rights opponents in Congress, to “defund” Planned Parenthood, according to a blog post from the “only national pro-life organization dedicated to training and equipping college, high school, medical, and law school students.”

They didn’t succeed in convincing Manchin to cut off Planned Parenthood from Medicaid reimbursements—at least, not yet.

“Well, no, he’s explaining,” Manchin said in characterizing whether Daleiden had been successful in that endeavor.

But Manchin is open to hearing more from the anti-abortion activist facing 15 felony charges for his role in a discredited smear campaign coordinated with GOP lawmakers against Planned Parenthood.

“I’m totally pro-life. But I’m also very, very, very concerned about women’s health care and the need for health care for women,” Manchin told Rewire in a Tuesday interview on Capitol Hill.

“So, it’s tough. Everybody wants you one way or the other, and I’m working with—trying to work with both sides. He’s getting me more information.”

Manchin joins other top Democrats, both on and off the Hill, in extending an olive branch to anti-choice candidates, lawmakers, and organizations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who campaigned on a progressive platform during his 2016 quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Democratic National Committee (DNC) Vice Chair Rep. Keith Ellison (MN) last month appeared with an anti-choice Democratic mayoral candidate during a fractious unity tour. The backlash forced DNC Chair Tom Perez to call on “every Democrat” to support abortion rights. The party’s chief in the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), nevertheless said that entry into the fold doesn’t require support for abortion rights. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) invoked the “big tent” argument in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Even by anti-choice standards, Daleiden is a radical, rather than the investigative journalist he falsely claims to be.

Daleiden is perhaps best known as the architect of a video smear campaign first released in July 2015 purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—or trafficked in “baby body parts,” in the parlance of his anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Robert Lewis Dear Jr., later told investigating officers that he allegedly opened fire and killed three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic in November 2015 because the health-care organization was selling baby parts.

The shooting marked a deadly incident among an almost immediate spike in attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics across the country after the videos were released. National Abortion Federation statistics for 2015 confirmed unprecedented levels of violence and threats against abortion providers and clinics, “reflect[ing] a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder, which coincided with the release of heavily-edited, misleading, and inflammatory videos beginning in July.”

Manchin indicated that he’s open to believing the content of the heavily edited CMP videos.

“That’s what I think the staff is working through,” he said. “I know there’s been some counter-charges, I know there’s been some investigations. We’re looking at all that.”

Three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury found no basis to CMP’s allegations. A $1.59 million “witch hunt” that concluded in the House late last year served as an echo chamber for CMP’s allegations and rhetoric. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) repackaged the disproven claims in a 547-page majority staff report that he used to call on Jeff Sessions’ U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Planned Parenthood.

Daleiden and Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins “left hopeful that it’s possible that the Senator could change his mind,” according to the group’s blog post.

Manchin’s record, however, reveals that that’s not a given.

NARAL Pro-Choice America ranked Manchin as a zero in its 2015 congressional scorecard for seven anti-choice votes, including those supporting a 20-week abortion ban and opposing Planned Parenthood funding. In 2016, however, Manchin’s score skyrocketed to 100 due to just three votes, all in response to contraception restrictions on Zika virus funding.

Manchin and fellow abortion rights foe Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), both Democrats for Life of America Federal Advisory Board members, voted in March to protect federal family planning safeguards for Title X clinics and Planned Parenthood affiliates that provide abortion care. Mixed-choice GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) defected from Republicans when the bill reached the Senate floor, leaving two tie-breaking votes up to Vice President Mike Pence.

A simple majority is required to execute the GOP’s one-two punch to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood by cutting off the organization from Medicaid reimbursements for one year. Not even the Senate’s few abortion rights opponents have indicated support for a repeal plan that Senate Republicans are cobbling together after rejecting a House-passed version that would likely leave at least 24 million people uninsured and gut Medicaid coverage for people with low incomes.

Collins and Murkowski may break ranks if GOP leaders insist on targeting Planned Parenthood, though the provision may not pass muster due to Senate procedural rules.