U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly continues to straddle the partisan divide in Congress.
The Indiana senator was among three Democrats to vote Tuesday in favor of advancing Republican legislation to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. And he was the only Democrat to support advancing a GOP defense appropriations bill.
Neither procedural motion received the 60 votes necessary to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Donnelly backed the GOP bills after joining most Democrats in a series of recent votes that stalled Republican attempts to block a nuclear power agreement between Iran and the United States. Before that, the third-year senator from Granger was one of two Democrats who sided with the GOP in trying to defund Planned Parenthood.
IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf noted that Donnelly, a Catholic, is a longtime opponent of abortion rights as well as "one of the Democrats most likely to buck the party" since he was a member of the House in 2007-12.
"So his independent streak is consistent," Wolf said in an email.
Donnelly’s vote was considered key if the abortion restrictions bill was to have a chance of advancing.
He had not tipped his hand ahead of the ballot, prompting Indiana Right to Life to again urge him to support the bill Tuesday morning.
Donnelly and Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia favored limiting debate and sending the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to a final vote. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk opposed the motion, which failed 54-42. Two Republicans and two Democrats did not vote.
"As a pro-life Senator, I believe all life is sacred," Donnelly said in a statement after the vote. "I am committed to protecting the sanctity of life, which is why I voted to consider this important legislation."
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., was an original co-sponsor of the proposal. "Medical science has proven that unborn children can experience the painful effects of procedures undertaken to end their lives as early as 20 weeks," Coats said in a statement. He said that "this kind of brutality is morally repugnant and totally unacceptable."
The House approved the legislation in a 242-184 vote in May. All seven Republicans from Indiana supported the bill, and both Hoosier Democrats voted against it.
The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday held up legislation that would add $38 billion to defense appropriations.
Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., defended the action, saying Republicans are unwilling to commit in turn to spending increases in such non-military programs as education and medical research.
Donnelly voted with Republicans on the appropriations bill, just as he had done when the measure came up in June.
In a floor speech Monday evening, he warned that Congress risks shutting down the federal government if it does not reauthorize spending past Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
"Let’s do the job we were sent here to do in Congress: Work together and keep the government open," Donnelly said.