ABC says Lieberman, Manchin, Casey, and both Nelsons (Bill and Ben) have headed for the lifeboats, but I think that count’s already outdated. According to Fox News’s Chad Pergram, John Kerry also thinks the new rule “needs to be compromised, adjusted.” If all six vote with the GOP caucus to either repeal the rule or expand the conscience exemption, then McConnell starts with 53 votes, but since Scott Brown’s been desperate lately to show he’s as good a Democrat as Elizabeth Warren, in reality it’s probably only 52. Even with pressure mounting on swing-staters like Tester and McCaskill, it’s hard to believe they’ll get to 60. Which means unless The One reverses himself on this, nothing’s likely to happen.

Any reason to believe he might? Yup: According to ABC, some of the most influential members of his cabinet think the rule is a very bad idea.

“What are we doing here?” asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, stepping outside his wheelhouse to ask about a rising storm involving the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. “What’s the point?”…

The debate within the White House on this issue was, sources say, heated, and President Obama was legitimately torn. Panetta wasn’t alone in his concerns. For months, Vice President Joe Biden and then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley argued internally against the rule, sources tell ABC News. Biden and Daley didn’t think the rule was right on either the policy or the politics, sources said. Joshua Dubois, head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also expressed concern…

In the fall, [Planned Parenthood’s Cecile] Richards brought in polling indicating that the American people overwhelmingly supported the birth control benefit in health insurance. She also highlighted statistics showing the overwhelming use of birth control.

The Vice President and others argued that this wouldn’t be seen as an issue of contraception – it would be seen as an issue of religious liberty. They questioned the polling of the rule advocates, arguing that it didn’t explain the issue in full, it ignored the question of what religious groups should have to pay for. And they argued that women voters for whom this was an important issue weren’t likely to vote for Mitt Romney, who has drawn a strong anti-abortion line as a presidential candidate, saying he would end federal funding to Planned Parenthood and supporting a “personhood” amendment that defines life as beginning at the moment of fertilization.

We’re in deep, deep trouble when Joe Biden is the voice of reason within the inner circle. Follow the link and see who he was up against on the other side: Planned Parenthood, Sebelius, Barbara Boxer — and David Plouffe, who no doubt was eyeing turnout among young O-bots and women in swing states. Why either of those groups would stay home over a slightly expanded religious-conscience exemption to contraception coverage under ObamaCare, I have no idea. Leftist groups will be too busy this summer painting Romney or Santorum as the new Hitler to agitate against Obama for expanding the exemption; besides, as we know from their changing opinions on Gitmo and drone strikes, they’re willing to cut O a lot of slack when it comes to betraying the cause. In fact, it’s the GOP’s base that desperately needs rallying, not the Democrats’. A PPP poll taken two weeks ago found that there are more Dems who are “very excited” to vote this fall than Republicans, no doubt a byproduct of despair over Romney on the right. If O had quietly granted a robust exemption on contraception to religiously-affiliated groups, he’d probably have had to weather a few weeks of grumbling from the left before the issue faded. Instead he handed the GOP a juicy culture-war issue to energize conservatives and left a flaming bag of shinola on the porch of all the religious liberals who went to bat for O-Care on the assumption that he wouldn’t force contraception coverage down their throats. Oops.

Here’s Marco Rubio on Fox this morning alongside Joe Manchin, whom I forgot in yesterday’s roll call of swing-state Democrats who are nervous about the new rule. He and Rubio are co-sponsoring legislation to repeal it. Like I say, I doubt they’ll have the votes, but the politics of a centrist Democrat joining up with a tea-party senator to challenge them is pure poison for the White House among undecideds.