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Chuck Schumer speaking at a podium in front of other senate Democrats.Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats hold a press conference on next week’s vote to codify abortion rights into federal law at the Capitol on May 5, 2022. | Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO
LESS ISN’T MORE — Political power is a tiger’s tail. Once you grab it, you’d better figure out a way to hold it without getting dragged down. Democrats’ less-than-firm grip is on full display after the publication of the Supreme Court’s draft majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.On its face, the draft opinion’s disclosure by POLITICO would seem to give Democrats a clear opportunity to galvanize their voters — women voters in particular, who broke overwhelmingly for them in 2020 — after half a year of arcane and unproductive procedural drama.The document, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, crystallizes the stakes of the midterms: Republicans are nearly unanimously opposed to abortion and are poised to follow up on any toppling of Roewith further restrictions on access.But it has not galvanized a majority of the Senate. Democrats are calling up a bill next week that would establish a federal right to receive an abortion, and for medical workers to provide abortions, along with broader abortion-access provisions. It’s all but guaranteed to result in a tally similar to February’s vote on the matter: 46-48.Every Republican, including pro-abortion-rights Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted no then. So did Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).There is a path to getting Collins, Murkowski, and possibly even Manchin on board for a narrower bill that would codify Roe and Casey into the law of the land in all 50 states. The two GOP women have their own bill that would establish abortion rights on the federal level. It’s far more narrowly tailored, with carve outs for objections from medical workers based on religion or conscience. It’s also more focused on abortions in early pregnancy. Democratic leaders have no plans to call it up.Not because they’re convinced it’s a bad idea, necessarily — Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)told our Marianne LeVine this weekthat, given Collins and Murkowski’s votes for recently confirmed future Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, he wanted to see “if there’s any common ground” on their bill.Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) gave the clearest explanation of the political logic behind giving Collins and Murkowski the stiff-arm: Neither bill is going to pass, so why not vote for the one that Democrats think is better?Hirono told Marianne that she saw no fundamental difference between a bipartisan group of as many as 52 senators uniting to codify Roe and a Democrats-only vote that will likely top out at 46 senators. Neither one can get past a filibuster.“The way I’m seeing it,” Hirono said, “if it’s bipartisan and still won’t pass, it’s the same thing as us Democrats voting on a bill.”Except that Democrats have spent two years decrying minority rule in the Senate. Most of the Democratic Party is trying to chip away at the legislative filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass most bills. The failure of an abortion-rights bill that passed with 52 votes would seem to be be a stark illustration of how the Senate works now.In addition, Democrats have spent most of the current Congress fixated on doomed party-line pushes — from the defunct social spending bill known as “Build Back Better” to the voting reform plan thatran aground in the Senate in January. It might be a refreshing change of pace to top 50 Senate votes on something.And if progressives take issue with the narrower scope of Collins and Murkowski’s bill, well, the duo seem open to a discussion. Collins was pretty clear on her standards Thursday, saying that “I’m not trying to go beyond current law.”Some Democrats might argue that forcing every Republican to be on the anti-abortion side of a reenergized debate over Roe presents a sharper display of the contrast between the two parties, and what’s at stake in November. They have a valid point. Yet it’s not particularly clear that aligning with Collins and Murkowski — two centrists who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial — would step on that message in any meaningful way.Democrats appear locked in to displaying one more fruitless exertion of their power, just as they did in January on voting rights and in the fall when the House passed a $1.7 trillion bill that imploded in the Senate.Their majorities might end this fall with a Collins-and-Murkowski-backed infrastructure bill as the crowning achievement of this Congress.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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