Rubio: You bet I'll be the lead sponsor of a Senate bill banning abortion after 20 weeks

Time to seek absolution from the base for the recent immigration-related “unpleasantness.” All is forgiven? Some is forgiven?

A tiny little bit is forgiven, maybe?

“If someone else would like to do it instead of me, I’m more than happy to consider it. But I’d like to be the lead sponsor,” the Florida Republican said. “I feel very strongly about this issue. And I’d like to be the lead sponsor on it if we can find language that we can unify people behind.”…

Rubio said “certainly” the Constitution would allow a federal law banning abortions after 20-weeks — it’s just a question of which portion of the document. Rubio is also a co-sponsor of a bill from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia, an issue he said that is more easily constitutionally settled given the District’s federal status.

“What we have among pro-life supporters in the Senate is a difference of opinion about: Which constitutionally enumerated power is this flowing under?” Rubio said. “We just have not yet been able to come to a consensus on that.”…

“We have a vast majority of support among most Americans, irrespective of how people may feel about the issue of abortion,” Rubio said. “We’re talking about five months into a pregnancy. People certainly believe there should be significant restrictions on that.”

Three weeks ago, the Weekly Standard reported that he was preparing to take the lead on a 20-week ban. A few days later, Politico claimed that he and his staff weren’t as committed to it as the Standard thought, which makes sense given how fraught with political danger a big abortion initiative is. What changed between then and now to have Rubio asking for lead-sponsor status? Polls, I assume. His numbers are still healthy among Republicans but he’s slipped a bit and he can’t afford to slip more with a Ted Cruz bid in 2016 looking increasingly likely. Meanwhile, polls on late-term abortion (the latest of which appeared just this morning) consistently show robust support for restrictions. He and the GOP are on safe-ish ground here provided that no one Akinizes the party’s messaging. Rubio’s given strong speeches on abortion in the past; taking the lead on this will give him a spotlight to show off some of that rhetoric, which will not only wipe away some of the lingering hard feelings over amnesty but ideally impress righties who are desperate for a candidate who can argue their positions eloquently. When was the last time the GOP had a nominee who was a forceful, articulate spokesman for conservatism? Not since Reagan, right?

The big landmine here for a guy who’s angling to run on electability in three years is getting trapped in a debate about banning abortion before 20 weeks. Democrats will try hard to make that the focus, knowing that the same polls that show support for banning it in the third trimester also show support for keeping it legal in the first. I’m curious to see how Rubio handles that. He can’t say that Republicans have no interest in banning it in the first 12 weeks; imagine the reaction from social conservatives. He could argue that, precisely because there’s so much public opposition, there’s little chance of Congress banning abortion in the first trimester, i.e. that the point is moot due to infeasibility. But social cons won’t like that either: Does that mean if they go out and vote to hand the Senate back to Republicans, the GOP won’t even try for a total abortion ban? No easy answers here. He’ll just have to retrain the argument on the third trimester whenever Dems try to move it elsewhere, emphasizing that public opposition to a first-trimester ban is no reason to thwart a publicly-supported ban for the third. He has a good line for that already, per Politico: “[Europe] is largely viewed as a bastion of social liberalism. But even on that issue they’re more restrictive than the majority leader and his party are.” That’s true. Good enough for France, good enough for the Democratic Party, no?

Exit question: Er, what about the constitutional point he raised, though? Back in the tea-party heyday of 2010, Republican candidates swore that every new bill would include a provision specifying which clause of the Constitution empowered Congress to act on that matter. No more “it’s constitutional because we say so” arguments a la ObamaCare. Point to a clause if you want to pass something. What’s the clause in this case? Presumably it’s section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives Congress authority to enforce the Due Process Clause by passing federal legislation. The argument would be that a fetus — at least after the 20th week of gestation — is a person and therefore can’t be deprived of life without due process. Rubio says, though, that members of the caucus disagree on which constitutional provision empowers Congress in this case. Which other clauses could possibly be in play? They’re not going to make … a Commerce Clause argument, are they? After the sturm and drang of the ObamaCare mandate debate? C’mon.