House Republicans are set to vote on another culture-war bill this week, as Rep. Trent Frnaks' (R-Ariz.) proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy reaches the House floor. It has not, however, emerged from the committee process unscathed.
It's worth noting that not everyone in the GOP caucus is pleased with the party's priorities. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), widely seen as a top Democratic target in 2014, said last week, "I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor. Clearly the economy is on everyone's minds, we're seeing very stagnant job numbers, confidence in the institution of government is eroding and now we're going to have a debate on rape and abortion. The stupidity is simply staggering."
It led House GOP leaders to give the bill a little touch-up.
Rep. Trent Franks's (R-Ariz.) bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks nationwide now includes an exception for rape and incest after his remarks about rape and pregnancy created an uproar.
And it's not Franks's bill anymore -- or more precisely, he won't be managing his own bill when it goes to the House floor Tuesday. He's being replaced with a high-profile House GOP woman.
I'm not sure that'll make things better. If Franks has become a lightning rod for controversy, then it certainly makes sense to replace him with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) -- though it's still the bill he wrote, sponsored, and pushed through the committee process, so no one should be fooled into calling it Blackburn's bill.
And including rape and incest exceptions might make the proposal slightly less offensive in a culture-war context, but problems remain. For one thing, the bill would require a woman to prove that she has reported her rape before she can exercise her constitutional right to terminate the unwanted pregnancy. For another, Franks' original version also banned abortions in "medically futile pregnancies," involving fetuses so badly compromised that they have no chance of survival. If this provision remains intact, it's still intended to force women to carry such pregnancies through to the doomed birth.
But even putting these details aside, I get the sense Republican leaders are missing the point.
Making the legislation slightly more palatable to the American mainstream, and removing the offensive lawmaker from his role in championing his bill publicly, is predicated on a dubious assumption: that this is what the House of Representatives should be working on right now. It is, in other words, the best use of lawmakers' time.
It's really not. We're talking about legislation that's probably unconstitutional, has nothing to do with the nation's top priorities, and can't pass the Senate anyway, making the entire effort a vanity exercise intended to make the far-right feel better about itself.
Altering the language and changing the lead sponsor slaps some new paint on a car that won't start. That's what Dent appeared to be referencing when he talked about the staggering stupidity, and on this, he certainly has a point.