Abortion rule foils Senate's progress on anti-trafficking bill

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked an anti-human trafficking bill over a controversial anti-abortion provision.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which would levy heavier penalties against convicted sex and labor traffickers, initially had bipartisan support. However, the Republican majority is "insisting on an ant-choice provision that has no business being in this bill," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, charged ahead of Tuesday's vote.

Specifically, the controversial provision would block money in a new victims' fund from paying for abortions. The provision goes further than similar anti-abortion clauses that Republicans have added to past laws, Democrats say.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said after the vote that the Senate would take the measure up again. "We're going to stay on this bill, it's important to the victims of trafficking," he said.

Until the Senate finishes work on this bill, McConnell said he's postponing a confirmation vote on President Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch.

"She will be considered just as soon as we consider this very important bill," the majority leader said.

Democrats on Tuesday morning slammed McConnell for linking Lynch's confirmation to the trafficking bill -- an issue that "has nothing to do with confirming the next attorney general," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said.

Nineteen days have passed since the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed Lynch's nomination, Democrats noted, yet it's unclear when the full Senate will vote on her nomination. By comparison, the last five attorney general nominees had to wait a combined total of 18 days for their confirmation votes. Lynch is "being held up longer than anybody else -- why?" Stabenow asked.

Schumer accused Republicans of purposefully holding up progress in the Senate because "they still think they're in the minority."

He added, "Hey Republicans, you won the election -- it's time to start governing."

The Senate will likely try to finish work on the anti-trafficking bill and vote on Lynch's confirmation before next Friday, March 27. After that, Congress leaves town for a two-week Easter recess.