Over the course of a five-hour special session Tuesday devoted to a problem they engineered, congressional GOP members put on quite a show of righteous indignation as they attempted to make the case for pulling the plug on Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.

For Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, it was a protracted, tag-team onslaught including vilification maneuvers borrowed from lawyerly textbooks. She was criticized for pulling in a substantial salary, compared to a criminal and otherwise treated as a target for public censure by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and his like-minded colleagues.

The New York Times posted a story about the scene in Washington that evening:

In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the president, Cecile Richards, faced off against conservative lawmakers who are seeking to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood after videos released by anti-abortion activists purported to show officials from the health group trying to sell fetal tissue. It was her first appearance before Congress since the issue exploded in July.

Ms. Richards said that the videos had been edited by the activists to mislead, and that Planned Parenthood facilitated the donation of only a small amount of fetal tissue and recouped only reasonable expenses as allowed by the law.

“The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to entrap our doctors and clinicians into breaking the law — and once again, our opponents failed,” Ms. Richards said.

The appearance by Ms. Richards before the House committee underscored a broader fight between the parties over Planned Parenthood as the clock ticks on a government shutdown that will begin on Thursday if a stopgap spending bill cannot be passed. While the funding fight is ostensibly about abortion and fetal tissue, the subtext is politics: Republicans perceive Planned Parenthood as a well-oiled, well-funded machine promoting Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank filed a more pointed report about the afternoon’s proceedings:

Dispensing with the videos, members of the panel got down to the larger purpose of the hearing: harassing Richards and her group.

Chaffetz flashed a chart on the screens showing that since 2010, the number of abortions at Planned Parenthood has surpassed the number of its “cancer screenings and prevention services.”

But no such shift occurred. The fine print on the chart showed that the number of abortions (327,000 in 2013) never came close to reaching the number of cancer screenings (935,573 in 2013) at any point.

The bogus graph didn’t seem to matter to Chaffetz, who drew the witness’s attention to the crossing lines showing abortions overtaking screenings.

Richards said the chart “absolutely does not reflect what’s happening.”

“I pulled those numbers directly out of your corporate reports,” the chairman said.

In fact, the chart said the source was the antiabortion group Americans United for Life — which Richards pointed out to Chaffetz.

The Post’s video coverage includes clips from Tuesday’s hearing that capture the tone of many of the exchanges during the five-hour session.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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