After Politico dropped the draft of Justice Alito's psychotic majority opinion on Roe v. Wade, every Democrat that Washington voters sent to Congress offered a statement, spoke at a
Their responses were impassioned but formulaic. House members mostly leaned on one or two adjectives, patted themselves on the back for passing the Women's Health Protection Act (which would codify Roe into law and remove some limitations on abortion access), and then passed the buck to the Senate. As one would suspect, statements from House members neatly aligned with their places on the political spectrum; the more conservative or politically imperiled the member, the vaguer the statement.
Rep. Kim Schrier, who represents this year's hotly contested 8th Congressional District, said she was “devastated and angry," and that she would "as a doctor... keep doing everything I can to protect women’s access to safe abortion no matter where they live."
Rep. Adam Smith, who represents the greater Seattle metro area in the 9th Congressional District, called the draft opinion "outrageous and disturbing" and added a call for "Congress" to pass the Women's Health Protection Act, which he supported.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Seattle, turned up the energy and plainly articulated the exact path lawmakers needed to take to preserve the right to abortion for millions of Americans, calling for the Senate to act and for a movement to form:
Finally, remember this: this is NOT an official ruling yet.
Abortion is still legal here in Washington State – and we’re going to keep it that way.
— Pramila Jayapal (@PramilaJayapal) May 3, 2022
Okay, so, the ball's in the Senate's court. How did Sen. Patty Murray, who faces reelection this year, and Sen. Maria Cantwell respond? Basically in the same way. They expressed outrage at Republicans, and then delivered vague promises to "keep fighting."
Standing beside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in D.C. yesterday morning, Sen. Murray called the draft opinion a “five-alarm fire," claimed Republican Senators were already planning for a federal abortion ban if they (very likely) take power next year, said the GOP will "take us backward," promised to "fight back with everything we’ve got right now," and described a need for "a pro-choice majority in the Senate," essentially admitting that one does not currently exist.
During that same press conference, Sen. Cantwell made a broader point about the history of Democrats “fighting for American’s health care rights," and in a tweet she said, “The State of Washington has codified these rights. We must now do that for the rest of the country.”
They all did better than NY Rep. and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who all but admitted that the party only serves as a foil for Republicans, and that using the party's current power to make real change would only hurt its chances of maintaining majorities in November, despite the fact that abortion is pretty popular and abortion bans are incredibly unpopular. This is the messaging from the man in charge of saving the Dems' House majority this year:
Democrats: We’re angry and hurt, I know. But it’s not about filibuster, size of the court or what the Senate hasn’t passed. It’s about Republicans, not us. We can save our freedoms. But, it’s November, stupid.
— Sean Patrick Maloney (@spmaloney) May 3, 2022
Maloney's statement is the opposite of true. In order to ensure abortion access across the country this year, lawmakers need to abolish the filibuster (completely, or with a carveout for abortion) and pass the Women's Health Protection Act. But Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still refuse to blow up or alter the rule for any reason. And even if they did, it's doubtful that the Senate even has 50 votes to pass the bill. As Vox reported, when Senate leadership put the legislation on the floor in March, Sen. Manchin voted against ending debate on the proposal, and so the effort to overcome the Republican filibuster failed 46 to 48. Moreover, both allegedly pro-choice Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — said they won't support the bill, which cuts out any potential to offset other Democratic defections.
So, ultimately, a coal baron in West Virginia and structural issues with the Senate reduced Washington's Democratic Congressional response on this issue to a handful of donation pleas, calls to elect more Democrats, and a demand for the Senate to vote on a bill it already failed to advance two months ago. With only a slim majority in Congress, that's really all they can do, aside from passing the buck up to Biden. During a committee meeting today, for example, Sen. Murray's "fighting" took the form of pressing Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to try to shore up abortion and contraceptive protections in the budget.
Don't even get me started on the appetite for court reform among Dems in this state.
All of which brings us back to Maloney. The early release of an expected SCOTUS decision on abortion has not changed the power dynamics in Congress, but it did spur the Democrats to release their big November 2022 messaging strategy a bit early: "Elect more of us, or get a national abortion ban." Once you peel away all the empty rhetoric about "fighting" and the emotionally resonant rhetoric about feeling the pain this opinion will cause, that is essentially all Washington's Democrats had to say.
Whether that negative-partisanship strategy motivates voters in swing districts to vote for Democrats remains to be seen. Given how the issue fires up both parties, it may not do the trick. But given how shy Republicans have been since the leak, Democratic Congressional candidates could do worse than talking about abortion at every available opportunity.
In Washington, reelecting Schrier to the House, Murray to the Senate, and voting for whichever little-known Democrat (hopefully) emerges from the primary in the 3rd Congressional District is basically all people can do federally, besides donating to abortion funds and pushing cities to do the same.