Abortion fight may draw Trump’s filibuster wrath
Senate Republicans want to follow the House and vote to ban abortions after 20 weeks. But doing so would likely reopen an internecine fight over the filibuster with the lower chamber — and the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday will reintroduce his bill to ban abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which failed on the Senate floor two years ago, 54-42. It’s sure to fail again if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings it up.
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But holding another unsuccessful vote after House passage Tuesday is not so simple with Donald Trump as president: He’s said he’d sign the bill if it gets to his desk. And he hates that Senate Republicans won’t abandon the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, which is the only thing stopping the federal ban from becoming law.
Graham has tried to prevail on Trump that killing the filibuster is a poor long-term strategy for conservatives, particularly on abortion. He hasn’t succeeded, Graham said: “I’ve let him know how I feel. I think he has a different view.” Indeed, Trump’s most recent comment on the matter came in a tweet last week: “Get rid of Filibuster Rule!”
“I just disagree with him on the legislative filibuster. It’s frustrating, but you know, we won’t always be in charge, and I think most people in the pro-life community understand that,” Graham said in an interview. “Big change, substantial change is meant to require consensus. And anytime you avoid that consensus, and some do this emotionally, it doesn’t stick.”
A source in the anti-abortion community said a failed vote “cuts both ways,” stoking enthusiasm for the bill but also drawing attention to frustration with the Senate’s rules. And a rules change would backfire whenever Democrats take back Washington and try to expand abortion rights.
Despite the political pickle, Graham said he’s “very confident” McConnell will eventually hold a vote in the Senate again. Even in failure, GOP leaders believe it could be used as a wedge issue to attack vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states. A McConnell spokesman declined to give a scheduling update on the bill.
“We’ll take it up as soon as we can. But realistically we’re looking at a budget resolution, tax reconciliation bill, so I don’t know when that is. But I’m for taking it up,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, McConnell’s top deputy. “If I were Democrats running for reelection in a red state I think you might be surprised by some of the votes we’ll get.”
The last go-round, just three Democrats supported the bill: Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All three are up for reelection in states won by Trump, as are seven of their colleagues.
Polling obtained by Politico and commissioned by abortion rights opponent group Susan B. Anthony List after the election shows that in the midterm battleground states of Missouri, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin, majorities of voters are less likely to support senators who vote against the 20-week ban. And the 20-week ban has majority support in those states and Florida, according to the survey.
“Now it’s time for the pro-life majority in the Senate to bring up this bill,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. “This is not a vote that … any senator running in a state carried by President Trump wants to have.”
Despite such political pressure on Democrats, the legislation is almost certain to win more than 50 but less than 60 votes. And that would likely fuel a new round of recriminations from Trump and House Republicans over the future of the filibuster.