Congress eyes clashes over birth control and marriage equality


Still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe v. Wade, congressional Democrats are preparing legislation to codify nationwide access to contraceptives, LGBTQ marriage and parental rights — and even a potentially long-established precedent on interracial marriage. The question: Will the Republicans follow them or block them?

Driving the news: In interviews Wednesday with Axios, more than 20 Senate Republicans — including several considered moderates or bipartisan negotiators — declined to commit to a position.

Why is this important: The Democrats’ strategy serves a dual purpose. If the measures pass, it is significant reassurance for millions of worried Americans that conservative state legislatures are coming next for them.

  • If the metrics stall, it could give Democrats — the obvious underdogs heading into November — more potent ammunition to hold back and get voters to vote.

What we mean: According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

  • “I believe we need to act urgently,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told Axios.
  • Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said if such bills pass the House, “that would be a priority for me. I’ve spoken with [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer to see if we can do it.”

How we got here: In a concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health — last month’s ruling that ended federal abortion rights protections — conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that judges should “reconsider all substantial precedents of due process in this Court, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell”.

  • In other words, he called on the Supreme Court to review contraception, same-sex intimacy and same-sex marriage.
  • Thomas was the only judge to defend this. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded by saying the opinion “confirmed many of our deepest fears about the direction this decision might take,” promising to “codify the freedoms Americans currently enjoy. “.

Invoices are still being worked on by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, panel members told Axios. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.) said they were “reviewing all of the decisions that Judge Thomas referred to.”

  • Rep. David Cicilline (DR.I.) cited repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act as a potential path to codify same-sex marriage.
  • Rep. Deborah Ross (DN.C.) said she’s heard about protecting access to contraception and the panel will discuss those issues at a hearing on Thursday.

Several members even said they can introduce legislation to codify Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 ruling legalizing interracial marriage, which did not figure in Thomas’ opinion.

  • “Love may be in the crosshairs,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said. “So frankly, I believe all doors are open.”
  • When asked if he thinks Democrats might move on to codifying love, Nadler replied, “Yeah, I do.”

These bills would probably pass the House. The real question is whether they could get the 10 GOP votes in the Senate needed to circumvent the filibuster.

The bottom line: Even if the bills don’t pass, Democrats say they see the political value in pressing Republicans into putting them on the record.

  • “Republicans should be held accountable for this Supreme Court MAGA decision that threw everything into question,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (DN.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It “certainly hell should” hurt Republicans to vote no, he added.
  • “It’s always good for people to know exactly where people stand on these issues that are important to the American people,” said Maloney’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Justice Clarence Thomas (left) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
What they say

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.)asked if such bills could get 10 Republican votes, told Axios, “It’s hard to say. I haven’t looked at them. … I didn’t even think about them.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, said Democrats are “hanging on straws” in an election that will be about inflation and rising costs. He declined to say how he would vote, telling Axios that “I want to see the bills” first.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), asked if the bills would get 10 Republican votes, said, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the bills, and I…probably shouldn’t speculate on that without knowing what I’m talking about. ” When asked how he would vote, he repeated, “I haven’t seen the bills.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only GOP senator to give a strong response, saying she would “definitely” support codifying the Griswold (contraceptive rights) and Casey (abortion rights) decisions. She declined to comment on same-sex marriage, saying she focused on reproductive health.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah): “I haven’t seen the invoices, I can’t comment on them until I do.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) called the codification votes “incredibly stupid”. On interracial marriage, in particular, he said there was no risk of those rights being struck down by the Supreme Court, so such a vote would be “a pure message. It’s a waste of time. to the American people. It’s trying to stir up fear where there’s no fear. I mean, my God.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.): “I think the premise is that it’s kind of likely that the Supreme Court is going to basically overturn their entire substantive due process law. … I think the odds of that are about zero. … The premise here is a false premise, so I wouldn’t be inclined to take the bait.

Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) told Axios that he supports interracial marriage and access to contraception in principle, but added: “I have to read the bill first. I mean, these bills are thousands of pages with all sorts of things in it.” Asked about his stance on same-sex marriage, he said: “I never even thought about it. I should think about it.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.): “I haven’t thought about it. I’m focusing on other things right now. »

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “I don’t know. I’d have to look at that.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.): “You hit me with something I didn’t have time for, sorry.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.): “I should watch them. I have no reason to believe that these precedents will fall. … I certainly support the idea that people can marry freely.”

Senator Thom Tillis (RN.C.)“A lot of the focus should be on the choices that state legislatures make. And I think it would be premature for us to take those kinds of actions now. … I think if the senator Schumer is looking at how long he has to do something good for the American people, he should focus on inflation, he should focus on the jobs crisis – the things that matter.”

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.): “I didn’t hear anything about the predicate of your question.”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): “Nothing like that should even be thought of by anyone, because it’s in no way in danger. I don’t know why people would come to that conclusion.

Senator Mike Rounds (RS.D.)“I want to see what they actually put into the details of a bill. So I have enough to worry about here right now and then talking about assumptions of something that might come from the House.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa): “I should see what the legislation entails before considering anything.”

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) withheld his position because “so often legislation contains poison pills” and he wants to see the text. He said legislation simply to codify same-sex marriage “looks like a bill looking for a problem.”

Senator Kevin Cramer (RN.D.): “I have to think about it… it seems fanciful to me.” He said he would fear he would inadvertently do “more harm than you can do good”.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.): “[U]Until I see the legislation, I’m not going to comment on whether I would support it or not.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)“I’ll worry about the hypotheticals by the time we get it.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): “I would have to look at them.”

To note: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement after the Dobbs ruling that she was working with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on a bill to codify rulings protecting abortion and contraception .

Between the lines: Several senators expressed skepticism that they would even have to take those votes, predicting that Democratic leaders won’t waste valuable time on what they said was likely a doomed effort.

  • “You know the numbers here. It’s not going to hit the ground,” Tillis said.

The bottom line: Republicans would strongly prefer not to have to vote on such charged social issues in which the opinions of their base diverge from those of the general public.

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