Progressive Democrats are expressing growing concern about having Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as the face in the Senate of restoring abortion rights, particularly after voters in Kansas struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated abortions in the state.
They see Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, as too much of a centrist on the issue, and they argue the legislation he’s backing, which he says would codify the Roe v. Wade decision, doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Kaine introduced the legislation with centrist GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and fellow Democratic centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). Democratic critics say the bill would actually fall short of codifying Roe v. Wade.
“After Kansas, the idea that a pro-life white male senator has emerged as the face of the Democratic response by pushing legislation that falls far short of codifying Roe and still has no chance of passing is just impossible to justify,” said one Democratic operative. “It would be one thing if he were actually able to move legislation, but everyone knows he can’t, and it’s an extreme example of how inept Democrats are at offense.”
One Senate chief of staff was also miffed about Kaine’s leading role in the legislation.
“Why the hell in a moment when the country is actually paying attention to this, when we’re winning ballot initiatives, do you want to take the wind out of the sails?” the chief of staff said. “Why is this guy the face of this? It’s bananas, really.”
Murkowski and Collins are likely the only GOP senators who would support the measure, meaning it would not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. If Democrats can add a few senators to their ranks, some think it might be possible to go much further to protect abortion rights — if 50 Democrats can agree to change the filibuster rules to do so.
The bill backed by Kaine, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016, would protect the right to an abortion until the fetus can survive outside the womb. That would generally provide protection for abortion rights up to 24 weeks. The bill would also provide access to contraception.
Critics say that doesn’t go far enough.
“The Kaine-Collins bill does not codify Roe,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told NBC News earlier this month. “The problem here is this bill is not an obvious improvement over where we stand right now.”
After the legislation was introduced, NARAL Pro-Choice America called it “just another political stunt.”
Kaine, who is Catholic, argues he and his allies are in a better position to pass the legislation because of the GOP support.
“As soon as you say, ‘Why do something bipartisan?’ That’s like giving up,” Kaine told Politico earlier this month. “That’s like giving up. … And we can’t give up.”
Aides to Kaine would not comment on his role on the legislation or the opposition to it.
Democrats have sought to step up their messaging on abortion rights ahead of the midterms, believing the issue can turn out their grassroots.
The White House has been slammed by progressives for not doing enough to go on the offensive on the issue, especially after a leak in May that hinted the decision was forthcoming.
Since the decision, Vice President Harris has taken on the issue, traveling the country and speaking on it in addition to meeting with groups to discuss women’s rights.
Some Democratic strategists say it makes sense for Kaine to become the upper chamber’s top advocate on the issue, comparing it to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) involvement in the climate legislation.
“It’s realistic,” said one Democratic strategist. “You don’t want to be represented by the extreme base. You want to be represented by the middle, who are closer to the median voter on abortion than someone like [Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-N.Y.].”
“This is the most realistic way to win the conversation,” the strategist said. “You have the conversation in the middle.”
But the Senate chief of staff and others say it’s a messaging failure for Democrats.
“We lost this fight … but, Jesus, don’t make it worse,” he said. “The politics of this are f—— nuts.”