We’ll see about that.
As I said elsewhere today, if Roe heads down the tubes and Republicans end up with control of the federal government in 2025, the pressure on GOP leaders from social conservatives to impose national limits on abortion will be enormous. By then, California and other blue states will have transformed themselves into abortion factories serving all 50 states. Never mind all the traditional rhetoric about federalism and states’ rights: Pro-lifers didn’t spend 50 years trying to repeal Roe just to have America’s abortion machinery moved around a little bit on the national map.
Populists like DeSantis will spend the 2024 primary promising to enact federal restrictions (albeit probably not an outright ban) curbing the power of blue states to perform abortions if elected president. The primary will be a contest of who can own the libs the hardest, and nothing will own them harder than bigfooting them on their ability to perform their most sacred social sacrament.
So while I understand why McConnell answered this question the way he did, I doubt he truly believes it. Mitch is more likely to resist the wishes of the base than most Republicans in Congress, but as we were recently reminded, even he has his limits when they feel strongly about something.
REPORTER: If the Supreme Court does indeed strike down Roe and you are majority leader, do you commit to keeping the filibuster in place at all costs?
MCCONNELL: Absolutely. We don’t want to break the Senate, and that’s breaking the Senate. pic.twitter.com/bTIODNg3Vd
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) May 3, 2022
Why is he dismissing the idea of ending the filibuster when some of his own members are already pushing legislation that would ban abortion nationally after six weeks? They’re not going to get 60 votes for that next year even if they have a big night in November. They’re not going to get 60 votes for it in 2025 either unless things break really, really well for them in 2024. They’ll need to end the filibuster in order to pass it.
I think it’s simple. McConnell doesn’t want to publicly entertain nuking the filibuster at a moment when he’s depending on Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to continue standing up for minority rights. If McConnell admits that he’d shift to a 50-vote rule for abortion legislation, Manchinema might get pissed and decide that they’re willing to do the same right now to help Schumer out. (Although even if they did, would pro-life Joe Manchin support codifying Roe?) Beyond that, McConnell understands that the looming demise of Roe will inflame liberals and make them more likely to turn out this fall. Having him stand before reporters today and admit that a national ban is on the table if Republicans win would be further fuel on the fire of Democratic turnout, especially in purple states where a majority might support legal abortion but otherwise be open to sending Republicans to the Senate.
So, sure. Until January 2025 at least, there’ll be no filibuster shenanigans for abortion in a Republican-led Senate. But what about after 2025?
Left to his own devices, I think McConnell would keep the 60-vote threshold intact. After all, he spent four years as majority leader under Trump without ending the filibuster despite pressure to do so from the base and even from Trump himself. For one thing, he understands that it benefits Republicans more than it does Democrats. Democrats have a substantial legislative agenda while Republicans really don’t, so being able to block legislation is ultimately more valuable to the GOP.
For another, McConnell surely sees the political peril for Republicans that’s coming if they lose their last excuse not to set national abortion policy. The GOP has had a sweet deal politically for 50 years courtesy of Roe: They pile up votes from pro-lifers by promising to appoint conservative judges but never have to legislate on the divisive topic of abortion themselves since the matter is in the judiciary’s hands. That deal ends — sort of — once Roe falls, as pro-lifers will now expect something from Congress in exchange for their votes. And that probably makes McConnell nervous, knowing that anything the party does on abortion to please one set of voters will alienate another set. Probably a larger set, given that most Americans oppose a total ban favored by the GOP base.
The last “neutral” card he’ll be able to play in avoiding his legislative duties is the filibuster. “We would happily limit abortion if we had 60 votes,” he’ll tell pro-lifers in 2025, “but we don’t. Sorry. The Senate’s institutional norms come first.”
I … don’t think that’s gonna hack it among committed abortion opponents. It’s one thing to say that the filibuster is more important than, say, building the wall. It’s another thing to say it’s more important than a 50-year fight to end the lawful killing of babies in America. The procedural argument won’t work, especially if a norm-buster like Trump is back in the White House.
McConnell could always try appealing to conservatives’ sense of negative partisanship: “If we end the filibuster in order to ban abortion nationally, Democrats will be able to legalize it nationally the next time they have total control of government.” But you know what populists will say to that: “Democrats are going to do that anyway! Strike first!”
Maybe Mitch expects that he’ll be retired by 2025 and doesn’t need to care about any of this. Can you imagine him sticking around to be majority leader for Trump’s second term and trying to manage that poisoned relationship?
By the way, here’s another answer from today’s press conference with reporters. He was very keen to change the subject from what overturning Roe would mean in practical terms, as you’re about to see:
REPORTER: If Roe is struck down, do you see a need for federal abortion restriction legislation in Congress?
MCCONNELL: …You need, it seems to me, excuse the lecture, to concentrate on what the news is today: Not a leaked draft, but the fact that the draft was leaked. pic.twitter.com/0wGQ94GgZA
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) May 3, 2022
Republicans have been laser-focused on the leak, not the holding of Alito’s draft opinion, since last night. I suspect that’s due partly to them following McConnell’s messaging strategy: The end of Roe is destined to motivate Democrats in the fall so Republicans should do what they can to change the subject. But partly too I think these guys are sincerely convinced that one of the liberals on the Court leaked the draft in order to leave a turd in the punchbowl as the right gets set to celebrate its greatest culture-war victory. I wouldn’t be so sure. Their demands to find and prosecute the leaker are going to get awkward quickly if the leaker turns out to be on Team Red.