WASHINGTON, D. C. — Capitol Hill found itself in an uproar Wednesday morning when an intern for Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) discovered a clause in the newest health care bill banning the term “birth control” from official government communications.
The intern told AMP’s political staff that he found the clause at 3 a.m. while “looking for inspiration for an angry blog post on Medium.” The clause, found at the bottom of page 394 of the 9,001-page bill, states simply that discussion of abortion, contraceptives, or anything related to birth control or the female reproductive system by government employees will result in immediate termination. This is currently the bill’s only known reference to the subject.
The bill, known as the “We Hate Obama and Obama-related Pieces of legiSlation” Act, or the WHOOPS Act, is rumored to have been drafted behind closed doors by Senator Mitch McConnell (KY) and introduced for discussion on the Senate floor late Tuesday afternoon. Within minutes of the bill being introduced, battle lines formed on the House floor. Forty-nine out of fifty-one Republican senators backed the bill almost instantaneously, with John McCain and Susan Collins as the lone holdouts. To our knowledge, these are the only two senators who actually read the bill in advance. Almost without fail, every Democrat in the room came out in opposition to the bill. The lone exception was Senator Cory Booker (NJ), who immediately stormed out of the room to film a suspiciously presidential video that appeared on GQ, Vice, NowThis Politics, and Snapchat later that night.
The WHOOPS Act’s troubling birth control clause set off a series of explosive Twitter exchanges in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Various Democratic 2020 hopefuls immediately put out statements condemning the clause, most notably resulting in a spat between Elizabeth Warren and the White House that resulted in the President calling Senator Warren’s list of followers “fake” and “sad.” Across the country, hundreds of Facebook events were created for protests against the bill, set to take place over the course of the next week or so. Spectrum Wireless put out a statement at around noon voicing their opposition to the bill, though many suspect this was due to network overload inflicted by angry calls to senators.
Near the end of the day on Wednesday, AMP managed to get into the Capitol building to talk to some of the key players involved. We found Mitch McConnell hiding in the men’s room about twenty minutes after recess began, having just escaped a pack of reporters desperate to get a controversial enough quote to fill out the next news cycle. It took us a while to coax McConnell into poking his head out of his shell, but once we got him talking he seemed somehow both enthusiastic and highly defensive about the bill.
“We drew a lot of inspiration from Florida’s climate change policy,” he said when asked about the clause. “Birth control is a highly contentious issue without a lot of scientific consensus behind it, just like climate change is. In Florida, things are simple: if you talk about climate change, you lose your job. I approve of Governor [Rick] Scott’s zero-tolerance policy for discussion of questionable science.” When we pointed out that the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is a real issue and that birth control has been proven safe and effective, McConnell started glancing around in irritation and bobbing his head up and down. “Well, there’s actually still a lot of debate,” he responded. “I have a chiropractor friend in West Virginia who’s shown me convincing studies contesting your points, so I don’t think we can call that consensus just yet.”
When we left the men’s room to look for a Democratic senator to interview, we bumped directly into Cory Booker. Senator Booker appeared momentarily irritated that he was interrupted while trying to come up with a new hashtag in opposition to the bill, but once he realized that we represented a college magazine he was more than happy to discuss the bill at length. Going over our notes later, we discovered that he had mentioned 2018 and 2020 approximately once every two minutes. Soon after our discussion with Senator Booker, we were lucky enough to find the Sanders intern who had broken the news about the clause. The intern was positively glowing as he described his impassioned outcry against the bill on Medium, and how thrilled he was to have already garnered a full dozen views of said article.
Debate on the bill ended for the night at around two in the morning, after several dozen pots of coffee, 370 tweets from the Senate floor, and no less than 14 threats of a government shutdown. As cots were rolled into Senators’ offices, the fate of the bill was unclear. Then, multiple Republican senators, finally reading through the bill and discovering how stupid party loyalty was making them, promptly decided to do nothing about it whatsoever. If the bill passes, it will likely be due to Vice President Mike Pence’s intervention. The bill would then be signed by President Trump in late January upon return from his holiday golfing trip.