WASHINGTON (AP) — The end of Roe v. Wade started in the Senate.
It was Senate Republicans’ partnership with President Donald Trump to affirm conservative justices and transform the federal justice system that paved the way for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell set the strategy in motion, staging the Supreme Court makeover by blocking President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland and changing Senate rules to easily uphold Trump’s picks . It was a long game that sought to lock in a conservative court majority for decades to come. Trump and McConnell couldn’t have accomplished it alone, needing the support of nearly every Republican senator to reshape the bench.
Now Republicans are heading for a midterm election in November that is poised to quickly become a referendum on the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as voters decide which party should control Congress. With the nation polarized, Democrats are promising legislation to protect abortion access and while Republicans want to impose new limits, including a nationwide ban on abortions.
“We’re going to take over the Senate in November and we’re going to hold the Senate for a long time,” predicted Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who celebrated the decision during a conference call with reporters on Friday.
The stakes are high with Congressional scrutiny hanging in the balance. With Biden’s low approval rating and grim economic conditions with high gas prices and other signs of inflation, Republicans are favored to take seats in both houses and regain control. Democrats have a slim margin of a few votes in the House and barely hold the Senate in a 50-50 tie because Vice President Kamala Harris votes in a tie.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Republicans would be called to account for their work and planned even more draconian measures if they won control of Congress, including a nationwide ban on abortion.
“They can’t be allowed to do that,” Pelosi said. “Make no mistake: the rights of women and of all Americans are on the ballot in November.
Prior to Trump’s election, the national abortion wars had settled into an uneasy truce in Congress. The court decisions in Roe v. Wade and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey asserted a constitutional right to access abortion. Legislation broke out from time to time, but there were rarely strong majorities in the House and Senate to overturn established law.
But McConnell launched his plans for a conservative justice system in early 2016, even before Trump became president. Knowing the power of abortion and other issues for conservative voters, he declined to consider Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the unexpected death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February. McConnell argued he was too close to the November election.
It was a stunning and calculating political move. McConnell reversed his decision just before the Republican presidential candidates were set to take the stage for a debate before the South Carolina primary, setting the tone for the GOP.
Outraged Democrats pushed Obama’s nomination of Garland forward, but McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, refused to consider it. Trump won November’s presidential election in part on a promise to fill the court vacancy with a conservative in the mold of the late Scalia.
The Trump era brought three new conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, all confirmed under new McConnell-orchestrated rules that lowered the threshold to a simple 51-vote majority, to fend off the filibuster of the opposition.
While Republican senators may have diverged with Trump on many issues, nearly all Senate Republicans stuck with him on this one for the promise that a conservative court majority could deliver — not just on abortion. , which some senators feel more strongly than others, but the rash of other political and regulatory issues.
No Democrats voted for Barrett, and of the three Democrats who voted for Gorsuch, only Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia remains in office. He also voted for Kavanaugh.
Manchin said he was “alarmed” by the abortion ruling, having trusted Gorsuch and Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that Roe v. Wade was set legal precedent.
The same disbelief was expressed by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who, along with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are the two Republican senators who publicly support abortion access.
“Every Republican senator knew this would happen if they voted to confirm these radical justices,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat.
Collins appeared furious on Friday, saying the decision was “rash” and “inconsistent” with what Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had told him in private meetings and their public testimony about the importance of upholding court precedents.
“Overnight throwing away a precedent that the country has relied on for half a century is not conservative,” Collins said in a statement. “It’s a sudden and drastic jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger and a further loss of faith in our government.”
Murkowski and Collins have introduced legislation that would begin enshrining Roe vs. Wade protections in law, an alternative to the Democrats’ bill that has already passed the House but stalled in the Senate because it unduly expands rights to abortion.
The two Republican women said a legislative solution was paramount and should be a priority, despite the likelihood of the House and Senate passing a bill.
“It’s up to Congress to answer,” said Murkowski, who is up for re-election in the fall.
But Republicans are moving in the opposite direction, ready to enact new restrictions if they take control of Congress in the fall.
Asked about the kinds of abortion legislation Republicans would strive to advance if they took over the House, GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to replace Pelosi as president, said: ” We will continue to search wherever we can to save as many lives as possible.
Congress is away for a two-week break. Crowds have gathered outside the Supreme Court across the street since the abortion ruling was released.
McConnell, who is not seeking re-election this fall but hopes to win enough seats to once again become Senate majority leader, seemed pleased with the outcome of his long years of work.
“Millions of Americans have spent half a century praying, marching and working for today’s historic victories,” he said in a statement Friday. “I was proud to be by their side throughout our long journey and I share their joy today.”
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.
For full AP coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion
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