100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
Abortion rights bill falls short in Senate, but Democrats hope to send message
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Wednesday failed to advance a bill to establish a federal right to abortion, but they…
Senate to vote on abortion rights; Democrats hope to send message
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats plan to vote Wednesday on a bill to establish a federal right to abortion in hopes…
Democrats lose Senate vote to codify abortion rights into federal law
Final tally was 49-51, with all Republicans and one conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin, voting against the measure
Democrats lose Senate vote to codify abortion rights 49-51 – as it happened
Democrat Joe Manchin sides with Republicans in voting against the measure
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Senate Democrats fail to pass legislation to protect abortion rights as Roe hangs in the balance
Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition effectively killed the legislation’s chances.
Senate fails to pass abortion rights bill — again
The largely symbolic vote to codify abortion protections didn't even garner a simple Senate majority, falling on the same lines…
Get all your news in one place
Latest Politics news:
'Futile and cruel': plan to charge fees for immigration detention has no redeeming features
Some people in immigration detention could be asked to pay for their own incarceration, as part of a new border…
Read news from The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more, with one subscription
Learn More
The next govt must make technology reform a core agenda item
As the federal election looms, the final bursts of campaign fervor, news coverage and election chatter spreads nationally. For many…
View from The Hill: Scott Morrison tells Liberal launch ‘I’m just warming up’ as he pitches on home ownership
When he mounted the stage, Josh Frydenberg received a reception beyond the obligatory enthusiasm required of the hand-picked party faithful.
The Uluru Statement must be core to promises made by all parties in the lead-up to the federal election
The Close the Gap 2022 report calls on governments to make “large-scale systemic reforms to truly empower Aboriginal and Torres…
The Innovation Papers: Last call for policy ideas
As we head into the last days of a hard-fought federal election campaign, InnovationAus.com is putting out a final call…
From analysis to good news, read the world’s best news in one place
If the polls are right, he may soon be the next Australian prime minister. So who is Anthony Albanese?
Today we are running two longer articles looking at the men who are vying to be the next Australian prime…
'His beating heart is a focus group': what makes Scott Morrison tick?
Today we are running two longer articles looking at the men who are vying to be the next Australian prime…

Senate Democrats’ imaginary majority

By Burgess Everett
“I would vote for codification [of] Roe v. Wade, as we've had 50 years of precedent,” Sen. Joe Manchin said before dubbing the bill his party leaders had chosen “ridiculous.” | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Every day, it seems, brings another reminder of the severe limitations of Democrats’ illusory majority in a 50-50 Senate.

First Democratic leaders tossed Covid relief from a Ukraine aid bill at the behest of Republicans who were threatening a filibuster. Then the party entertained giving the GOP a politically volatile vote on reversing the Biden administration’s border policy. And Wednesday showed there isn’t even a majority in the Senate for Democrats’ preferred abortion rights bill.

Not to mention that the party’s signature climate and tax reform bill hasn’t moved an inch in months after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) tanked the last iteration — still-rising inflation isn’t helping its revival. And though there’s a flurry of bipartisan discussions on issues from immigration to energy to electoral vote certification, none are showing signs of imminent breakthroughs.

“It’s a majority that comes and goes. Sort of like the tide,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I certainly expected a little bit more clarity.”

Now nearly 16 months and running, it’s by far the longest 50-50 Senate in history. And Democrats have had great success confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees, punctuated this week by installing a new FTC commissioner who gave Democrats the majority and the first Black woman on the Federal Reserve Board. But on a day-to-day basis, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s job is an excruciating grind based on whether any of his members have Covid, if Republicans are feeling cooperative and where a handful of Democrats stand.

And sometimes Schumer’s tactics expose his own party’s divisions, like when Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voted down an effort to gut the filibuster for elections reform or during Wednesday’s abortion vote. Manchin pleaded with his colleagues at a private party lunch on Tuesday to consider a narrower abortion rights bill than the expansive measure that failed.

But Schumer and the caucus charged ahead, and Manchin joined all 50 Senate Republicans in voting no on a bill that would have preserved and, in some cases, expanded abortion rights if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade next month. That left Manchin isolated in his caucus once again — just as he was on filibuster reform and the $1.7 trillion party-line social spending bill known as “Build Back Better.”

In an interview, Manchin said he asked Democrats to write a bill that only codified Roe, rather than one that went further by barring states from enacting certain new restrictions on abortion and protecting the right to an abortion later in pregnancies.

“I would vote for codification [of] Roe v. Wade, as we've had 50 years of precedent,” Manchin said before dubbing the bill his party leaders had chosen “ridiculous.”

He recounted telling “all 49 members of my caucus at [Tuesday's] luncheon” where he stood in favor of simple codification and essentially said his party was being misleading.

“They want people to believe it just basically codifies Roe v. Wade,” Manchin added. “It does not just codify Roe v. Wade.”

Manchin’s colleagues are not thrilled with either his vote or his rhetoric. In an interview, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said “we just have a different view on what the legislation is trying to do. We are trying to codify not only Roe, but also [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey and all the legal precedent.”

“This is a state-of-the-art bill,” Gillibrand said. “I disagree with Sen. Manchin and his staff’s interpretation of what this represents. I also disagree that Sen. [Susan] Collins and [Lisa] Murkowski’s bill codifies Roe. … It’s a good effort, but they left definitions vague.”

Large Senate majorities can paper over differences: Manchin has always marched to his own tune, but in the past it often didn’t matter because Democrats had votes to spare. When Manchin opposed changing the Senate rules in 2013 to scrap the 60-vote requirement for most nominations, Democrats had 55 seats and moved ahead without him.

Even when Republicans were in the majority, Manchin’s straying from party orthodoxy was rarely decisive and often viewed by colleagues as just the cost of having a red-state Democrat in the caucus.

But with 50 seats, defections from Manchin and Sinema, plus Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) or Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hit very differently.

“It’s hard, we have the responsibility of being in the majority, without being able to count on all of the votes in our column. And that’s tough,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “The good news is even a 50-50 Senate gives the Democrats control over the votes that come up, it means we can move judges and other nominees.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi also faces tight margins, but can still afford to lose a handful of votes from her own party and doesn't need to rely on Republicans given the House's majoritarian rules. Along with Schumer, the two Democratic leaders passed the coronavirus rescue plan, new infrastructure law, reformed the postal system and are on the cusp of agreement on a competitiveness bill. Yet many in the party focus more on the big promises that Democrats have yet to deliver on climate, tax reform and new social programs.

Senate Democrats can confirm nominees with a simple majority, which means getting all their members and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote. That’s given the caucus some of its biggest wins recently, including confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and filling out the Federal Reserve and the FTC.

But Democrats are more interested in legislating than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose relentless focus on confirming judges helped keep his majorities unified while policy debates often caused bitter division. And the Democratic interest in successful lawmaking makes a 50-50 Senate that much tougher for them.

Most Democrats want to scrap the filibuster, but at times the caucus can’t even put up 50 votes on major issues. The traditional legislating route and its 60-vote threshold is not as easy as picking off a couple Republicans — getting 10 GOP votes requires major concessions.

Biden’s request for billions of more dollars for Covid vaccines and treatment is a perfect example: Republicans have bottled it up by demanding a vote on keeping former President Donald Trump’s pandemic-era border policies in place. Some Democrats are now conceding that they may have to allow a vote on the immigration measure in order to pass a bill Biden says is critical to combating a future coronavirus surge.

Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill last March, evading the filibuster via the party-line budget reconciliation process. But Democrats haven’t used that tool since, namely because Manchin tanked Build Back Better and the party hasn’t yet come up with a replacement.

Asked if it feels like Democrats are always in control of the chamber, Tester answered: “Oh God, no.” He said he can often find out more about the Senate’s cadence from Republicans, because it’s GOP demands that dictate much of the Senate’s rhythms on a weekly basis.

“I don’t feel bad about that. We’re chairing committees … helping set up the agenda. That’s the way it is,” Tester said. “But no, it’s tenuous at best.”

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
Abortion rights bill falls short in Senate, but Democrats hope to send message
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Wednesday failed to advance a bill to establish a federal right to abortion, but they…
Senate to vote on abortion rights; Democrats hope to send message
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats plan to vote Wednesday on a bill to establish a federal right to abortion in hopes…
Democrats lose Senate vote to codify abortion rights into federal law
Final tally was 49-51, with all Republicans and one conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin, voting against the measure
Democrats lose Senate vote to codify abortion rights 49-51 – as it happened
Democrat Joe Manchin sides with Republicans in voting against the measure
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Senate Democrats fail to pass legislation to protect abortion rights as Roe hangs in the balance
Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition effectively killed the legislation’s chances.
Senate fails to pass abortion rights bill — again
The largely symbolic vote to codify abortion protections didn't even garner a simple Senate majority, falling on the same lines…
Get all your news in one place