This post has been updated with comments from Sen. Toomey below:
WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) joined a handful of Senate Republicans Monday in voting to block a bill that would keep the government running while continuing to fund Planned Parenthood.
Toomey initially voted to advance the measure over a key procedural hurdle, but later changed his vote to ‘no,’ bucking GOP leaders and centrists within the party, and leading Democrats to call him an "extremist."
The vote put Toomey, a fiscal hawk who has touted his “constructive” and cooperative work in the Senate, on the same side of the fight as combative conservatives, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who say they are willing to shutter the government to end funding for Planned Parenthood in the wake of controversial, highly-edited videos about its abortion practices.
Toomey, who opposes abortion, was one of 19 senators, all Republicans, to oppose the measure. Most Republicans – 31 – and every Democrat supported the bill, which cleared a procedural step 77-19. A final vote on the plan, which would fund the government through early December, is expected later this week.
In an e-mailed statement Tuesday morning, Toomey described his vote as one against Planned Parenthood aid. He said shutdowns are “no way to conduct the nation’s business” and blamed Democrats for creating the deadline crisis by blocking funding bills all year. Democrats have sought more funding for domestic programs.
“It is now apparent that the government will not shut down, so the question before the Senate is whether taxpayers should be forced to fund Planned Parenthood’s outrageous extremist practices. I voted against that, and I am instead in favor of shifting Planned Parenthood’s funding over to health centers that provide essential services to women in need,” Toomey said in his release.
GOP leaders -- who also oppose aid for Planned Parenthood -- had nonetheless urged their colleagues to support the funding measure, saying a shutdown would be disastrous.
“The question before us now is how to keep the government open in the short term, given the realities we face,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor.
But other Senate conservatives, led by Cruz, say they should use every tool possible to end funding for Planned Parenthood, calling its practices "the very definition of inhumanity."
The vote again put a spotlight on Toomey’s difficult balancing act as he seeks re-election next year. Expected to face a left-leaning electorate, he has presented himself as a conservative senator who is willing to compromise. But he also needs to retain support on the right, and the GOP base has risen up to punish lawmakers who they believe have capitulated to Democrats on the biggest fights.
The most drastic example came Friday, when House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) announced his resignation in the face of a conservative revolt. Some Republican activists have also clamored to target McConnell, seeing the GOP leaders in Congress as too soft to advance conservative ideals. Toomey has already faced the wrath of some on the right for his support of a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.
Democrats pounced on Toomey's vote Monday, saying he had sided with his party's hard right.
“Time and again, Toomey has shown that he is willing to put his hyperpartisan ideology over the basic responsibility of funding the government – even as the majority of his Republican colleagues join with Democrats in keeping the government open,” said a release from the campaign of former Rep. Joe Sestak, one of three Democrats running for the right to challenge the incumbent.
Democrats' Senate campaign arm said Toomey had "picked extremist ideology over commonsense bipartisanship."
Toomey had argued against the 2013 government shut down – when Republicans refused to pass a funding bill unless Democrats agreed to kill the Affordable Care Act – but then voted against the deal to end that standoff, saying he couldn’t support the added debt in the final compromise. He was in the distinct minority on that vote as well.
Several other blue state Republicans who face re-election next year supported the funding measure Monday, including New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Illinois’ Mark Kirk and Ohio’s Rob Portman.
Toomey’s vote also put him at odds with House Republicans from the Philadelphia area, who have urged their colleagues to avoid a shutdown and have signaled they will support a measure to keep the government running. They have derided the tactics of those who would shutter the government as destructive.