WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's top Republican is conceding that his party will have to await the next president before it can cut off federal funds that go to Planned Parenthood, prompting heated rebuffs from conservatives.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Republicans lack the votes to halt the payments. He also says that standing in the GOP's way is President Barack Obama, who doesn't leave office until January 2017.
"The way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it, the president has to sign it," McConnell said in an interview with Kentucky TV station WYMT recorded Monday.
"The president's made it very clear he's not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood," McConnell said. "So that's another issue that awaits a new president, hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood."
The majority leader's remarks drew angry responses from some conservatives, who have chided GOP leaders before for not being more confrontational with Obama.
"Senate leadership first told us we needed the majority before we could act on conservative principles," said Phil Novack, spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential candidate who this summer accused McConnell of lying. "But now it appears that they are making yet another excuse for a failure to act on our promises."
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who has been gathering signatures on a letter from lawmakers promising to oppose spending legislation this fall if it includes money for Planned Parenthood, likened McConnell's comments to waving "a white flag." Mulvaney said GOP senators should consider replacing their leader.
"Tell me the difference between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid," Mulvaney said in an interview, referring to the Senate Democratic leader from Nevada.
Mulvaney, who collected 18 signatures on the letter before the House left for a summer recess in July, said he did not know how many additional lawmakers have signed the letter.
"McConnell is useless," Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, wrote on Twitter. "He won't fight for a damn thing and then whines he doesn't have the votes. Why, exactly, is he there?"
Federal agencies run out of money Oct. 1 unless Congress sends Obama legislation financing them. A stalemate would lead to a government shutdown, which McConnell has repeatedly said will not occur. Congress returns next week from a summer recess.
Shortly before leaving on its break, the Senate fell six votes short of advancing legislation that would have blocked Planned Parenthood's federal money. The organization receives over $500 million annually in government financing, which includes money from states.
The GOP effort to block Planned Parenthood's funds was triggered by videos, secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists, showing the organization's officials discussing their provision of tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers.
"The real question is can McConnell convince the rest of Congress to not hold the federal government hostage as a few politicians try to score cheap political points by cutting health care for millions," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group's political arm.