Supreme Court’s Roe reversal reshapes Democrats’ battle to keep Congress
This fall’s midterm landscape shook from a tectonic realignment on Friday after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade’s abortion-rights precedent, giving Democrats a third-rail social issue as they fight to keep their slim majorities.
Senate Democrats clamored to connect the decision to their narrow hold on the chamber, which allows them to confirm new Supreme Court justices with a simple majority vote. Control of future judicial confirmations now may be the biggest prize at stake in the November elections.
Democratic candidates in Senate races also railed against the filibuster, hoping to expand their majority next year and codify Roe into law by tearing down the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to pass most bills. But that push would be moot without keeping House control, and the decision to unravel a nationwide right to abortion access breathed new life into Democrats’ long-shot campaign to keep the lower chamber.
In the battleground state of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood clinics shut down abortion access at least temporarily after the decision because of a state-level criminal law, crystallizing the stakes of that state’s Senate race.
“This is now a reality. I mean, our clinics are no longer performing abortion, so women have to travel elsewhere,” said state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) this fall. “We should have codified this a long time ago. And I think what it comes down to is that we need more pro-choice Democratic women because they would prioritize getting this done.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill have prepared for this moment for weeks. The party’s senators held a special caucus meeting on Thursday ahead of the expected court decision that focused on the party’s messaging, while the House had its own discussion a day earlier.
After the long GOP campaign to install a conservative majority and overturn Roe was successful, Friday amounted to a gut-check moment for a Democratic Party that now must begin their own long-term effort to re-expand abortion access. What’s more, the decision drowned out House approval of the Senate’s gun safety bill, one of the party’s biggest accomplishments in years.
At the same time, the high court’s decision highlighted the need for House Democrats to somehow defy the enormous midterm headwinds of President Joe Biden’s ailing approval numbers and not only protect, but expand their majority.
“This is bigger than gas prices now. This is bigger than inflation,” said Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), whose home state now has an almost total abortion ban. He offered a preview of Democrats’ midterm message: “You’re going to see them go after contraception now. You’re going to see them go after basic fundamental rights.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), House Democrats’ campaign chief, put it even more simply: “For millions of Americans I think they are going to be getting a clear picture of the choice in November.”
The Senate failed to pass a bill expanding abortion rights last month after POLITICO published a draft majority opinion that pointed to Friday’s Roe ruling, and many Democrats are not eager to replay those votes. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said it isn’t necessary to put Republicans on the record again, since it’s clear “where Republicans are going to stand.”
Instead, she predicted that the issue would be “galvanizing” in the midterms.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio.), who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, said “there’s no sense in” holding do-over votes on the abortion access bill, instead advising Democrats to focus their energy on driving out their base in November.
Democrats also don’t have the votes to weaken the filibuster at the moment due to resistance from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), both of whom support codifying Roe.
“Sinema is part of the problem. Manchin’s part of the problem. Schumer’s part of the problem, if they don’t let the filibuster go down,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who has threatened to primary Sinema from the left in 2024.
Messaging will be the biggest piece of Democrats’ response over the next four months. While party leaders have long geared up for this precise outcome, they’ve mostly focused on how to channel voters’ anger into turnout. Just a handful of seats in both the House and Senate may determine who controls Congress next year, though Democrats’ prospects of holding onto the House, in particular, are fading by the week.
Abortion access is a particularly salient topic in states where it could now be at immediate risk following the decision. Many of those include key battleground districts: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Virginia and Wisconsin. Incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said laws already on the books in his state “are leaving many Arizonans frustrated and scared.”
“We’re going to have many, many states, and Pennsylvania could easily be one of them, where the government is going to dictate women’s health care choices,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), a battleground Democrat, who grew emotional as she spoke. “I’ve been with them, I’ve rallied with them … I grieve for them.”
The contrasts between the parties, challengers and incumbents alike, are almost as stark as possible on abortion. Incumbent Senate Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Johnson in Wisconsin all hailed the Roe decision, which some Republicans hope will stir the conservative base and remind voters why flipping the Senate is so important.
But Democrats hoped it would help them in those races, as well as those of Kelly and Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
Of those, Johnson is the most vulnerable of them; he has played down the politics of the decision in interviews. His opponents say they are determined to not let that happen.
Republicans, meanwhile, are seeking to flip the question on Democrats, whose legislative vehicle of choice to codify Roe also expanded abortion rights in some circumstances. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has sought to portray many Democrats’ resistance to any limits on abortion as out of step with most Americans, and on Friday NRSC spokesperson Chris Hartline said “all Democrats running in 2022 should have to answer this simple question: Should there be any legal limits on abortion?”
But House Democrats — whose campaign arm almost immediately began blasting battleground-district Republicans on abortion — said their recent polling shows most voters want at least some protections.
And Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), long one of the House’s strongest abortion-rights advocates, vowed: “It is now a very powerful election issue. Not just for women.”
Marianne LeVine, Nicholas Wu and Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.
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Author: By Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris