Schumer says Republicans 'overplayed their hand' in birth control fight

Republicans are ginning up a debate over social issues to distract from the improving economy, Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) charged Friday.

Schumer said the birth-control mandate in President Obama's healthcare law might have seemed like a winning issue for Republicans before Obama announced new "accommodations" for religious-affiliated employers. But the tide has turned since then, he said.

"Clearly, they've overplayed their hand," Schumer said on a conference call with reporters. 

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The Senate is likely to vote next week on a proposal from Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? MORE (R-Mo.) to let all employers opt out of healthcare mandates that violate their religious or moral beliefs. Republicans demanded the vote in the immediate wake of Obama's announcement, but it's been Democrats who have worked the hardest to keep the issue alive over about the past week. 

"Perhaps they think this fight can be a quick fix for the enthusiasm gap" in the presidential race, Schumer said, but it would come at the expense of general-election votes.

Asked whether the contraception mandate could hurt Obama's standing with Catholic voters, Schumer said polls show that the most opposition comes from evangelical Protestants, not Catholics.

Republicans say the issue is about religious freedom and whether Obama's order forces institutions like Catholic universities to violate their convictions.

"This debate is not about any one group or one set of beliefs," Blunt said in a statement. "The Obama Administration's mandate violates Americans' First Amendment rights. This bill includes the same conscience protection language that has been part of our law for almost 40 years, and it simply preserves and protects the fundamental religious freedom that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years."

Democrats, meanwhile, have framed it around women's health and access to contraception.

"This amendment is really shocking to all of us, but that fact that it's being offered is not surprising," Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayEXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Trump's sinking polls embolden Democrats to play hardball MORE (D-Wash.) said.