Klobuchar reads to Senate for hours as abortion standoff blocks trafficking bill

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Usually it only seems like our political leaders are talking on and on for hours. But Sen. Amy Klobuchar really did that Wednesday.

As the Pioneer Press reports, Klobuchar held the Senate floor for more than two hours in what amounted to a filibuster (though the Senator refused to call it that).

She spent most of her time talking about sex trafficking but occasionally chided her fellow Senators for letting abortion politics ensnare a bill that would crack down on traffickers and help their victims.

Much of her speech consisted of reading from the book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."

Got a couple hours? You can give it a listen here.

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In one of those ironies of Washington, Klobuchar's long-windedness helped block a vote on a bill she actually wants to see passed.

What are they debating?

The bill is called the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

It would allow federal authorities to seize the assets of convicted sex traffickers and then use that money to set up a fund to help their victims.

Patterned after similar legislation in Minnesota, it enjoyed bipartisan support with Klobuchar its lead Democratic author in the Senate and Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen carrying a companion bill in the House.

The House passed it with a voice vote and it was sailing through the Senate until a provision involving abortion funding came to light last week.

What's this got to do with abortion?

Unlike the House bill, the Senate measure includes a provision that says money from the fund to help trafficking victims cannot be spent on abortions.

For most supporters of abortion rights on the Democratic side of the aisle, that's a dealbreaker. But Klobuchar's Republican co-sponsor, John Cornyn of Texas, says he won't take it out of the bill.

As MPR News reports, Klobuchar and other Democrats initially said they didn't realize the abortion funding ban was in the bill – though Klobuchar's office clarified that to the Associated Press, saying a staff member saw the language but failed to alert the Senator.

While the U.S. House puts a time limit on debate, the Senate does not. That means Senators opposed to passing a bill that includes the abortion language – even though they're in the minority – can talk about it for hours to prevent a vote.

What now?

The standoff became more significant this week when Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he will not let the Senate confirm a new U.S. Attorney General unless Democrats allow a vote on the sex trafficking bill as is.

MinnPost reports lawmakers are meeting behind the scenes to try to work out a solution. Meanwhile, Klobuchar tells the website she'll bring another book with her to the Senate floor Thursday.

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