Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could travel as early as Thursday to arrange a Monday vote, but Portman said he doesn’t know if that deadline will hold.
“I don’t think we have the votes yet,” Portman said. “I don’t want to move forward until the votes are there. I always talk to people. Others have been more optimistic, but people need time.
There is not much time left before the election, however, with no guarantee that a post-midterm vote will succeed. And most Senate Republicans don’t seem to feel political pressure to support legislation whose goals are broadly popular with the public. Republican leaders do not oppose the bill, although they remain somewhat austere about its prospects.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) said Wednesday that “I don’t see it” when it comes to finding 10 Republicans to back the future. So far, only three Republicans are attached to the bill, though Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has appeared supportive and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has retracted his previous overture to the latest draft. Senate Republicans discussed the issue at their Wednesday luncheon, including an alternative proposal from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The Senate is expected to sit two more weeks in September, as well as two more next month, although leaders can cancel the October weeks if both parties wish to go into full-time campaign mode. Some senators say the midterm elections could be a factor in where the final votes fall; Johnson, for example, is up for re-election.
“He might have a better chance after the election, to be honest,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), undecided, said of the bill Democrats originally drafted in response to the cancellation of the decision of the Supreme Court. Roe vs. Wade. Lummis added that she personally doesn’t care about the timing, but it’s “possible” that some of her colleagues do.
Schumer refused to submit the bill passed by the House to the Senate in August, making sense. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), and their Republican partners more time to polish language and build GOP support. The Democratic leader struck a hopeful tone in the Senate on Wednesday, imploring 10 Republicans to help break the filibuster and move forward: “Democrats are ready to make it happen.” Democratic aides say he has been focused all along on getting a result, not just the tough GOP vote ahead of the election, pointing to his patience with the effort and his restrained rhetoric.
The House passed a marriage protection bill in July, a reaction to a concurring opinion by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who suggested, following the annulment of deer, other matters like marriage could be reviewed by the high court. The high number of House GOP supporters made a move to the Senate suddenly possible.
With the bill’s fate at stake, Baldwin did not approve of a delay and instead said she was focused on winning the first procedural vote needed to get the bill across the finish line. If that happens on Monday and the measure overcomes a filibuster to reach the ground, the debate will likely dominate Senate action all week.
“We were prepared to push for a vote for this right after the House voted overwhelmingly in a bipartisan fashion to move this forward. But now we are getting closer and closer to a certain date in November. And I think that’s a new factor,” Baldwin said.
A Sinema spokeswoman said she was also not seeking to delay the bill and was focusing on getting the wording right. A failed vote could help Democrats in their effort to portray the GOP as extreme on social issues, but Republican supporters say it would be a disastrous outcome for a bill that is expected to remain bipartisan. Baldwin said she’s “going to work as hard as possible to make sure we can get to the bill next week and pass it.”
Collins described a painstaking behind-the-scenes effort to complete the job, including studying example state laws and responding to several inquiries from interested senators.
“You would be surprised at the number of senators who gave us their opinion. And so we try to take each of those suggestions very seriously,” Collins said. “All of this is taking longer and as we try to increase the number of senators we need.”
The senses. Toomey, Lummis, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mitt Romney of Utah are among the still undecided Republicans. In fact, a surprising number of GOP senators are currently publicly on the fence, though there is a prevailing view that new supporters will be revealed if the bill does indeed make it to the Senate. Some Republicans may also support the bill if and when the proposed changes related to religious freedom are completed.
“With the right religious freedom amendments, I can support it,” Romney said. “Without that, I would have a very difficult decision to make.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said if he was ready to introduce the bill, he would defer to Baldwin. Schumer pledged earlier this month to introduce the legislation in the “coming weeks”.
“We will vote when we have the votes. It’s as simple as that,” said Tillis, standing next to Baldwin in a Senate elevator. “We are working, with my colleague here, on elements that will be well received.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.