Senate Republicans aren’t thrilled that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of former President Trump’s most loyal allies, is creating a political problem for them by stoking the national abortion debate, which has energized Democratic voters, shortly before Election Day.
Graham pledged at a press conference Tuesday that Republicans will vote on legislation banning abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy if they win back control of the Senate in November.
But that idea fell flat with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who on Tuesday distanced himself from Graham’s proposal.
When asked about voting on the issue in a Republican-controlled Senate, McConnell said most Republicans want it handled at the state level.
“With regard to his bill, you’ll have to ask him about it. In terms of scheduling, I think most of the members of my conference prefer this be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell told reporters when asked about a vote next year if the GOP controls the Senate.
Speaking at a press conference in the Russell Senate Office Building, Graham confidently predicted: “If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill.”
Graham’s bold proclamation was a lifeline to Senate Democrats having a bad day: The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday reported that inflation reached 8.3 percent in August compared to a year ago, with prices rising 0.1 percent last month despite a drop in gas prices.
“Proposals like the one today send a clear message from MAGA Republicans to women across the country: your body, our choice,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor, pouncing on Graham’s proposal.
“Rather than expanding women’s rights, MAGA Republicans would curtail them. Rather than give individuals the freedom to make their own health care choices, they’d hand that power over to radical politicians,” he said.
Republican senators say McConnell did not sanction Graham’s high-profile push to ban abortions across the country after 15 weeks of pregnancy and punish health care providers who defy the ban with prison sentences reaching five years. It creates exceptions for cases of rape or incest against a minor or if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.
Asked if Graham’s bill is sanctioned by the leadership, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) replied: “No.”
“This is his idea, his decision that he’s putting out there. Whether or not it ever gets voted on remains to be seen,” Thune said. “A lot of our members believe that these are going to be issues that are debated at the state level. Individual states are going to come to a political consensus. At some point maybe there starts to become a national consensus around a sense of restrictions.”
One Republican senator close to McConnell said Senate Republican leaders want to keep the focus on President Biden and inflation and not get distracted by a debate over abortion rights, which has given new energy to Democratic voters in the final weeks of the election season.
A senior Republican aide acknowledged the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down Roe v. Wade, has energized Democratic voters more than Republicans initially expected.
Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent, said Tuesday that abortion restrictions should be left to state officials.
A Marquette University Law School poll released in June showed that 58 percent of Wisconsinites were “very concerned about abortion” after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Twenty-seven percent of Wisconsin residents said abortion should be legal in all cases and 31 percent said it should be legal in most cases.
In Nevada, where Republicans are hoping to knock off incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), voters rate abortion rights as their second-most important issue after the economy, according to a recent poll from The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights.
The fight over abortion is mobilizing Nevada voters even though the state constitution already protects the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In Pennsylvania, where Democrats have a good chance of capturing the seat held by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R), there has been a new surge of women under the age of 25 registering to vote.
A Franklin and Marshall College poll published in August showed strong support for abortion rights among Pennsylvania voters, with 52 percent of respondents saying it should be legal in certain circumstances and 37 percent saying it should be legal in all circumstances.
Graham admitted that he had not consulted with McConnell before rolling out his proposed 15-week abortion ban, which adopts a more aggressive approach to protecting the unborn than the 20-week abortion bans he has championed in the past.
“No. I like Mitch but, no, I just sort of like spoke to the ladies behind me and they said, ‘Would you go from 20 to 15 weeks?’ I said, ‘yeah,’ and here we are,” he said, referring to the anti-abortion activists who attended the press conference where he rolled out the 15-week abortion ban.
Graham said he wanted to respond to the abortion rights bill that Schumer brought to the Senate floor in May, which every Senate Republican voted against.
Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also voted against the Democrats’ abortion rights bill.
Moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) define themselves as pro-choice and introduced legislation in February to codify the rights established by Roe v. Wade but voted against the Democratic bill because they thought it went too far.
Graham predicted if his bill comes up for a vote, it will get more votes than the Democratic bill that failed in May, adding “there are a couple of Democrats that will be with us — maybe.”
He noted that there are several European countries generally viewed as more liberal than the United States that ban abortion after 12 weeks, such as France, Denmark and Norway. Several other European nations such as Belgium, Germany and Spain ban abortion after 14 weeks.
He rejected concerns voiced by fellow Republicans that raising the profile of the abortion debate a few weeks before the election is a political mistake.
“I don’t think this is going to hurt us. I think [it] will more likely hurt [Democrats] when they try to explain to some reasonable person why it’s OK to be more like Iran and less like France on abortion,” he said.
Iran has recently cracked down on abortion rights by passing a law last year creating more restrictions on the practice and empowering security agencies to keep track of who uses abortion and family planning services. The law, the Rejuvenation of the Population and Support of the Family bill, was approved by Iran’s Guardian Council to increase the nation’s low birth rate.
McConnell on Tuesday tried to steer the conversation back to inflation, border security and rising crime — issues on which Republicans think they have a strong advantage over Democrats.
“The expectation was that Democrats’ runaway inflation might finally begin to level off. The topline inflation rate was expected to fall. Instead, yet again, the opposite happened. Overall inflation was up even higher,” McConnell said in response to the inflation report for August.