Thousands of Christian conservatives gathered in Washington, D.C. over the past three days, as presidential candidates sought their grassroots support for the 2016 election. Late Saturday, Senator Ted Cruz won the straw poll of attendees at this tenth annual Values Voter Summit with three other candidates also in double digits.
While the straw poll indicates a measure of Evangelical and social conservative support, these results are far from the only newsworthy aspect of the summit. On Friday, as the summit was carried live on several national TV networks, social media trends indicated the event as one of the nation's most-discussed topics.
Many candidates — including Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Bobby Jindal — delivered their most comprehensive remarks to date on the sanctity of human life, forcefully calling for the federal government to cut off all taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood.
The attention on Planned Parenthood comes in the wake of an undercover video investigation by the Center for Medical Progress. Since July, the group has released ten short videos online (as well as complete unedited footage) purporting to show illegal activity taking place at the nation's largest provider of abortion services. The center's founder, 26 year-old citizen journalist David Daleiden, also spoke at the summit.
FRC Action noted that all other candidates were invited — notably former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who continue to perform well in national polls — yet declined to attend.
The first of many candidates to address these more than 2,600 influential activists, Senator Marco Rubio took the opportunity to announce a breaking news story happening only miles away in the United States Congress.
"Just a few minutes ago," said Rubio. "Speaker John Boehner announced that he will be resigning."
The large crowd of pro-life advocates erupted in thunderous cheering. Rubio continued, "The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country."
Over the coming days and weeks, many high-level meetings among U.S. House leadership are expected to determine how the principal positions in Congress will shift — ultimately, to be voted on by all 435 Representatives in the House.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council Action which hosts the annual summit, offered his take on why this shift matters to the pro-life movement.
He stated, "American voters who put the Republican Party into the majority have grown weary of GOP leaders running into these political battles waving a white flag.
"If Republicans will not fight to end taxpayer funding for an organization that is trafficking in baby body parts, and possibly infanticide, what will they fight for?" Perkins asked. "We welcome Republican leadership that understands that some values, like life, religious liberty and national defense are worth fighting for — no matter what."
Senator Rubio addressed the current pro-life initiative Congress has been grappling with, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which bans abortions after a pre-born baby's 20th week of development, as well as the Planned Parenthood scandal.
"By the year 2020," began Rubio. "I hope we will be able to say that abortions after 20 weeks are illegal, that no taxpayer money is used to fund abortions here or abroad, and that Planned Parenthood doesn't receive a penny from the federal government."
While many pro-life members of Congress have echoed Perkins' call to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood using every available legislative means, some voices even at Values Voter Summit expressed doubts on the feasibility of this strategy.
Senator Lindsey Graham, lead sponsor of the Pain-Capable bill, noted defunding Planned Parenthood only in a future context rather than as a present battle.
He said during his Saturday morning speech: "I see a day when Planned Parenthood is defunded, and it goes like this: the House defunds Planned Parenthood, the Senate defunds Planned Parenthood, and the president of the United States signs a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood."
Soon after Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz took the stage in all his Texas swagger. He elicited much applause as he outlined what he would do on his "first day in office."
Cruz said he will "instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood — and to prosecute any and all criminal conduct by that organization."
Other candidates continued this theme. During his remarks, former Senator Rick Santorum recounted a recent CNN interview, where they discussed how Planned Parenthood has been breaking the law — specifically, a law Santorum himself was involved in crafting when he served in the U.S. Senate.
Santorum, whose daughter Bella was born with Trisomy 18, which can cause severe developmental difficulties, summed up his stance on the worth of every life: "We have been fighting these battles, I have been standing in the forefront for year after year after year fighting the battles on life."