By Mike Lillis - 01/22/15 06:00 AM EST
House Democrats think the GOP’s agenda, including a hard-line bill banning abortions that GOP leaders pulled late Wednesday from floor consideration, is giving them a new opportunity to win over millennials ahead of 2016.
“It’s almost as though they’re creating the strategy for us, bringing up these bills,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday.
Younger voters tend to vote Democratic, but the age group turned out in low numbers amid the party’s midterm drubbing last November.
In 2014, there were some signs that younger people turned off by a tough job market were souring on President Obama and his party.
Now things are starting to look different.
A recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News has fueled the Democrats’ optimism, finding that President Obama’s approval rating among millennials has jumped 19 percentage points since December.
And on Wednesday night, GOP leaders decided to pull an abortion bill banning the practice after 20 weeks of pregnancy because of complaints from a group of GOP House women, who were worried the legislation could turn young people and women away from their party.
Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.) pulled their sponsorship over concerns about language requiring rape victims to file police reports to gain an exemption to the restrictions.
Democratic leaders have been giddy over GOP divisions in the early stages of the new Congress on abortion and immigration.
“Young people ... have a libertarian streak to them, in terms of letting people — within the law and to the extent that it does not harm others — live their lives as they see fit,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said this week. “You know, gay marriage is a perfect example, where the younger generation sees that as not an issue — they don’t understand why that’s controversial.”
The sponsor of the abortion bill, Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksSpeaker Ryan tries new Trump strategy: Ignore him 27 days before elections, GOP at war with itself Five things to watch for at IRS impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.), downplayed the divisions on Wednesday, arguing that younger voters are on his side of the issue.
“There’s a shift, but it’s in our favor, not against it,” Franks said of millennials’ sentiments on abortion. “Almost everyone in our party supports the basic thrust.”
House Republicans will now bring a measure to the floor sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) that prohibits federal funds for abortions, including in health benefits coverage.
Separately, Republicans have been dogged by recent news that one of their top leaders, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), had voted as a state legislator against resolutions apologizing for slavery and creating the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday — votes that resurfaced as part of a broader story that Scalise had spoken before a white supremacist group in 2002.
Most Democrats have resisted the temptation to gloat over the GOP’s troubles.
“We’re not going to get involved in the internal problems that the Republicans have,” said a senior Democratic aide.
But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already launched a campaign accusing Scalise of “cheerleading” for “an anti-Semitic, racist hate group” — and linking vulnerable House Republicans to the embattled whip.
The divisions and controversies aren’t how Republican leaders had hoped to launch the new Congress. After winning control of the Senate and picking up more than a dozen seats in the House, GOP leaders wanted to use their new power to send strong signals of resistance to Obama’s priorities in the final two years of the president’s reign.
Instead, they’ve taken up legislation that’s highlighted rifts in their own party, while recent economic gains have lifted Obama’s approval ratings to their highest levels in 18 months.
Democrats, meanwhile, have launched a new effort designed to get voters to the polls, with one component focused on millennials in particular.
The reasons are clear. Although voters ages 18 to 29 chose Democratic candidates by a margin of 54 percent to 43 percent last year, they represented just 13 percent of voters who showed up at the polls — a drop from 19 percent just two years earlier.
By launching their Policy and Communications Committee, party leaders are hoping to improve on those figures in 2016 and beyond.
“Millennials make up about 80 million Americans, approximately a quarter of the population, but turned out in the last election about half that number,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who will lead the Democrats’ effort to energize millennials. “It is exciting to find new ways for the party of the future to talk to the future, and that’s what this effort will represent.”