Senate

This week: Senate heads toward failed abortion vote amid fury

Abortion-rights and anti-abortion protestors gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden
Abortion-rights and anti-abortion protestors gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Senate Democrats will force a vote this week to codify Roe v. Wade in the wake of a leaked draft decision that would strike down the 1973 landmark decision. 

The vote is guaranteed to fall short because the bill needs 60 votes to advance, meaning support from at least 10 GOP senators. 

But Democrats believe that it’s crucial to have a vote to both show that they are fighting for abortion rights and to force Republicans, many of whom have sidestepped talking about the policy ramifications of the leaked opinion, to go on the record. 

“The American people will see crystal clear, that when given the chance to right this wrong, the Republican party will either side with the extremists who want to ban abortion without exceptions, or side with women and with families and with the vast majority of Americans,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

Schumer will move on Monday to tee up the procedural hurdle for Wednesday, setting up a mid-week showdown. 

Schumer forced a similar vote earlier this year that failed in a 46-48 vote, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting with Republicans against advancing the bill. 

Democrats made changes to the legislation aimed at assuaging concerns from some of their moderate colleagues. They stripped out a nonbinding findings section that, among other provisions, referred to restrictions on abortion as perpetuating “white supremacy” and called it a “tool of gender oppression.” 

Manchin said late last week that he still needed to look at the updated version of the bill. Getting Manchin on board would at least allow Democrats to present a united front, even if the bill falls short. 

But Democrats are facing intense pressure from their own base to act in the wake of the leaked draft, despite facing limited options in Congress.

The draft, penned by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, would strike down Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed access to an abortion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Trump-appointed Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett are prepared to vote with Alito, Politico reported, citing a source. 

Senate Republicans have largely avoided wading into the policy implications if Roe was struck down, upending reproductive health for millions of women. Instead, they’ve mainly focused on the fact that the draft was leaked, an unprecedented breach for the Supreme Court that typically keeps its decisions tightly held. 

To pass legislation codifying Roe, Democrats would need to unite to nix the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to advance in the Senate. 

But both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) reiterated last week that they were opposed to doing that, in line with their long-held positions that similarly sunk a voting rights effort earlier this year. 

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have introduced a narrow bill to codify Roe and are in talks with both Democratic and GOP colleagues to try to build support for the measure. 

But Schumer, during a press conference last week, indicated that Democrats were pushing forward with their own bill. 

“We’re not cutting back. We’re not compromising. This is about a woman’s right to choose, fully. We are not looking to compromise [on] something as vital as this,” Schumer said. 

Congressional staff union

The House will vote this week to formally recognize House staff’s right to collectively bargain. 

The vote comes after congressional staff launched a formal effort to unionize earlier this year. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) quickly introduced a resolution, which is the measure getting a vote this week, to greenlight House staff having the ability to form a union. 

“When the House passes this resolution, we will pave the way for staffers to join in union, if they so choose. Congressional staffers deserve the same fundamental rights and protections as workers all across the country, including the right to bargain collectively,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter. 

In addition to announcing a vote, Pelosi revealed that she was setting a $45,000 minimum pay floor for congressional staff. 

“With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent. Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past,” Pelosi wrote. 

The Senate would need to greenlight its own resolution to let staff form unions. 

Ukraine aid

Democrats are mulling the path forward for President Biden’s more than $30 billion request for Ukraine-related aid as the House comes back into session this week after being out of town.

Senate Democrats are eyeing linking the request to a stalled $10 billion in coronavirus assistance, which Republicans are blocking as they push for a vote to tie the COVID-19 aid to an extension of Title 42, a Trump-era border policy.

“I know Chuck wants to move a Ukraine package and put COVID in with it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of Schumer, while cautioning that a final decision hasn’t been made. 

Republicans view the two as related because the Biden administration is trying to lift Title 42 this month even as a broader public health emergency remains in place. Title 42 is a Trump-era pandemic public health policy that allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border and blocks them from seeking asylum. 

The GOP proposal, spearheaded by Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) and backed by a handful of Democratic senators, would effectively block the administration from lifting the border policy by tying it to the broader pandemic health emergency. 

Democrats have so far refused to give Republicans a vote on Title 42, arguing that the coronavirus money shouldn’t be held “hostage” to a fight over the border. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also been detailing its plan for how to process migrants along the border once Title 42 is lifted, but that’s done little to change the GOP’s mind. 

Republicans are pushing Democrats to let the Ukraine aid move on its own, without the coronavirus money attached to it. 

If Democrats link the two — an idea backed by both the White House and Pelosi — Republicans are vowing to block a package containing both Ukraine and coronavirus funds, without a deal on their border vote. 

“It would be a mistake,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “You take things that are really doable … and then you add something to them that makes them, if not impossible, much slower to achieve.”

Nominees

The Senate will kick off its week on Monday on an initial vote on Ann Claire Phillips’s nomination to be administrator of the Maritime Administration, setting up a final vote for Tuesday. 

In addition to the haggling over Ukraine aid, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing this week on Bridget Brink’s nomination to be ambassador to Ukraine, among other nominees. 

Tags abortion rights Andy Levin Charles Schumer Charles Schumer congressional staff union Joe Manchin Roe v. Wade Russia-Ukraine war Samuel Alito Susan Collins Ukraine aid
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