Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a bill meant to help human-trafficking victims over objections to a controversial abortion provision, fueling a standoff that in turn is delaying a confirmation vote for President Obama's attorney general nominee.
The flare-up is one of the more complicated disputes of the new congressional session. Democrats are objecting to the anti-human trafficking bill, which they initially supported, because it contains the abortion provision -- which would prohibit victim-restitution funds being used to pay for abortions. Democrats only recently noticed the provision, though it's been in the bill for weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to advance the legislation on Tuesday, but Democrats would not help his party reach the 60-vote threshold to move forward.
The legislation was blocked on a 55-43 vote, with four Democrats joining Republicans.
The stand-off now has not only the trafficking legislation but also the AG nomination hanging in the balance. McConnell said earlier this week that the chamber won’t have a final vote to approve Loretta Lynch as the country’s next attorney general until the human-trafficking legislation is approved.
That message was repeated Tuesday by bill sponsor Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn after the failed test vote.
“Some groups want to turn this into an abortion issue,” Cornyn said. Cornyn also accused Democrats of staging a “fake fight” for political reasons and said McConnell will continue to hold votes on the legislation until it is passed.
Both parties are now pointing the finger at each other over legislation that at one point was a bipartisan issue. The bill itself has 12 Democratic cosponsors, and all nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the legislation early on.
However, Senate Democrats began to block the bill about two weeks ago upon learning of the abortion-money language.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 attempts to bolster earlier versions of such laws in part with harsher penalties for those convicted of human trafficking, which includes transporting people for illegal sexual activity.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., put the blame on Senate Republicans, just as the GOP accused Senate Democrats of being hapless when they controlled the chamber until January.
“Republicans have once again tied themselves in a knot,” Schumer said after the vote. “Who would have thought they can't even get a human-trafficking bill with bipartisan support done? …. There’s other work to be done. At the top of that list is Loretta Lynch.”
Republicans argue the controversial language was part of the legislation from the beginning of its consideration.
“They all voted for the very same language in a bill in December,” McConnell told CNN on Sunday. “This is boilerplate language that has been in the law for almost 40 years that they all voted for three months ago in another bill."
Some Democrats have argued they overlooked the language when they first voted for the legislation.
Lynch, now the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was nominated in November by Obama for the attorney general post.
The judiciary committee approved her nomination with a bipartisan vote on Feb. 26, sending it to the floor.
Three Republicans on the committee -- Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- voted for her.
Lynch’s nomination has been awaiting confirmation for 130 days, longer than the past five attorneys general. Attorney General Eric Holder, by comparison, had to wait only 64 days before receiving Senate confirmation.
Fox News’ Kara Rowland and The Associated Press contributed to this report.