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Ben Sasse is leading on life. Now the pressure is on Mitch McConnell to support him

Conservative Review

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is leading on protecting life in the United States Senate. On Thursday evening, Sasse went to the Senate floor and announced he would begin an expedited process for the Senate to consider the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act, a bill that simply instructs an abortionist to try to save the life of a baby who survives an attempted abortion and is born alive. Sasse is taking action, he says, to put all 100 U.S. Senators on the record opposing infanticide following Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's comments defending a late-term abortion bill.

"A public elected official — the governor of one of the 50 states — has been defending a practice that is morally repugnant," Sasse said. He quoted Northam, who on Wednesday said, "If the mother is in labor, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother."

"Let's be really clear about what we're talking about here," Sasse continued. "We're talking about fourth-trimester abortion, or what anyone in the normal world calls infanticide. That's what we're talking about, and the governor of Virginia has been defending this all day yesterday and again today. Going out and trying to equivocate and qualify and then double down and again say he wants to defend this practice, which is infanticide."

He went on, bringing moral clarity to what Northam proposed:

Let's be clear what we're talking about. We're talking about killing a baby that's been born. We're not talking about some euphemism; we're not talking about a clump of cells. We're talking about a little baby girl who's been born and is on a table in a hospital or a medical facility, and then a decision or a debate would be had about whether or not you could kill that little baby. We're talking about the most vulnerable among us, and we have a public official in America out there again and again defending a practice. This is infanticide that we're talking about. This should be so far beyond any political consideration. We're talking about a little baby. A baby with dignity. An image bearer. We're talking about a tiny life that has done nothing wrong to warrant being left to die cold and alone on a table.

Everyone in the Senate ought to be able to say unequivocally that killing that little baby is wrong. This doesn't take any political courage. And if you can't say that, if there's a member of this body that can't say that, there may be lots of work you can do in the world, but you shouldn't be here. You should get the heck out of any calling in public life where you pretend to care about the most vulnerable among us. There should be no politics here that are Right vs. Left or Republican vs. Democrat. This is the most basic thing you could be talking about. We're talking about a little baby born alive, and we have a public official in America defending the idea, "Well, you could have a debate about killing her."

The process 

Sasse has started the ball rolling to put the Senate on record opposing infanticide, but it will be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is accountable for ensuring the vote happens.

Sasse announced that he would use what's known as a dual-track process to expedite consideration of his bill, using Senate Rule 14. He also declared that he would ask unanimous consent to proceed to a vote on his bill. “I’m going to ask all 100 senators to come to the floor and be against infanticide. This shouldn’t be complicated,” Sasse said.

Rule 14 permits a senator to bypass the usual process of introducing a bill and having that bill referred to a committee for further consideration. Under the usual rules, the committee holds hearings and then votes to send the bill to the full Senate, where it will be further considered — a process that can take months. Rule 14 allows a senator to skip the committee process and place his or her bill on the calendar, though that does not guarantee it will be voted on. By asking for unanimous consent on Monday, Sasse is asking for all of the senators to agree to proceed to a vote on his bill. The Democrats will almost certainly object to that unanimous consent request and attempt to block a vote.

Once the Democrats object, McConnell is up. If the majority leader supports Sasse's effort, he can make a motion to proceed on Sasse's bill, which the Democrats can again object to. Debate in the Senate will continue until McConnell files a cloture petition. The cloture petition triggers a vote to end debate, which has a 60-vote threshold, and consider the bill. At least 16 senators are needed to sign the petition, which is why McConnell's consent to take this action is necessary. As the conference leader in the Senate, if he does not want to force a vote, it is very difficult to find 16 senators willing to defy the majority leader, who has access to donors for election fundraising and controls which bills come to the floor. If you're a senator and have a bill you want to advance, it obviously helps to have the majority leader on your side.

So McConnell needs to be willing to go along with Sasse's attempt to force a vote to put Democrats on the record on the aboriton issue. But McConnell's preference is to not bring up votes in the Senate that cannot pass. Sasse's pro-life bill will not clear the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster. If McConnell holds to his past pattern, he will not attempt to force a vote on the bill.

This is where McConnell needs to be pressured by conservatives, pro-life groups, and the president. The Republican majority in the Senate must act with moral clarity in the face of evil. The late-term abortion policies the Left is advancing and defending are evil. McConnell ought to show the American people there is a majority in the U.S. Senate willing to protect life — to protect little babies after they've been delivered — even if this majority is not big enough to overcome Democratic obstruction. And if the Democrats do object, if they obstruct, then by having this vote, Republicans let the Left expose themselves for what they really are. Americans may be divided on when life begins in the early stages of pregnancy. But almost every American knows it is wrong to kill a baby after he or she has been born alive.

President Donald Trump is expected to use his State of the Union address to take a strong stand for life. It is morally right and politically wise to support the president's position on abortion and hold the Democrats accountable to voters with a vote in the Senate.

If McConnell objects

If McConnell ignores conservatives and refuses to force the issue, there are at least two options to overrule the majority leader, but they will require political courage.

The first option is to go rogue and attempt to submit a cloture petition without McConnell's consent. Sixteen Republicans would need to be willing to defy McConnell and accept the consequences.

The second option would be labeled "legislative terrorism" in the press. A senator can offer a third-degree amendment to any legislation pending on the Senate floor and then filibuster the main bill until his amendment receives a vote. A senator who did this would be accused of creating "chaos" in the Senate, as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was when he attempted to use a third-degree amendment to the 2015 highway bill to block the relaxation of sanctions against Iran.

The hope is that Sasse and the other Senate conservatives won't need either of these tactics. McConnell should support Sasse's effort to bring the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act to a vote. The United States Senate should show the American people exactly where each of its members stands on infanticide. And those opposing the bill ought to be exposed, because no one who supports infanticide should serve in public office.

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