Congressional Democrats’ initial reaction to the elimination of a constitutional right to an abortion was spotty. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a poem. Another group of House Democrats sang “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn described the release of the most consequential Supreme Court decision since the 50-year-old decision it was overturning “a little anticlimactic,” since he—and everyone else—knew it was coming.
If they knew it was coming, perhaps they could have coordinated a better response. Still, you can understand why House Democratic leaders would feel frustrated with the criticism that they haven’t done anything with the power Democratic voters bequeathed them.
The House held up its end of the bargain in 2021, passing the Women’s Health Protection Act—a bill that would go beyond codifying the pre-Dobbs status quo on abortion rights into law. And, as Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues this week, they’re ready to do it again. But as she made clear, the problem is not in her chamber.
“It is essential that we protect and expand our pro-choice majorities in the House and Senate in November,” Pelosi said, “so that we can eliminate the filibuster so that we can restore women’s fundamental rights—and freedom for every American.”
Pelosi is rarely this blunt about eliminating the filibuster. More often she’ll dismiss questions about Senate rules, saying that the Senate’s business is the Senate’s business. These comments are indicative of a shift in the last few days from Democrats who recognize that vague exhortations to “vote in November!” needed to get a little sharper. (They weren’t landing that great with the populace.)
The new directive is: We just need two more senators to make your dreams come true.
“Give us two more Senate seats and we will make abortion legal nationwide as a matter of federal statutory law,” Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz tweeted on Monday.
“What we must do is elect two more Democratic pro-choice senators who are willing to overturn the filibuster or at a minimum carve out important exceptions to protect our rights,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said this week.
Guy Cecil, chairman of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, even named the states that need to provide the senators, saying this week that Democrats need “to elect two more Democratic senators in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania.”
And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren named the particular warm bodies those particular states need to fling at the U.S. Senate.
“We [need to] get two more senators on the Democratic side, two senators who are willing to protect access to abortion and get rid of the filibuster so that we can pass it,” Warren said on ABC this Sunday. “John Fetterman, I’m looking at you in Pennsylvania. Mandela Barnes, I’m looking at you in Wisconsin. We bring them in, then we’ve got the votes, and we can protect every woman no matter where she lives.” (Fetterman has already won his Senate primary. Democrats in Wisconsin won’t select a nominee until later this summer.)
That really is the ballgame. Senate Democrats actually made great strides in this Congress to get roughly 48 senators willing—or willingish—to either eliminate or allow for carve-outs to the filibuster. That number was, at best, half of that a couple of years ago. But Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin are immovable brick walls, into which Senate Democratic leaders have butted their heads many times already, when it comes to eliminating the filibuster. So add exactly two (2) supplementary Senate votes, the filibuster goes poof on this issue, and you’ll get a federal law protecting abortion rights. (At least for a few years, before either Republican majorities repeal it or those rascals at the Supreme Court come up with a reason to toss it.)
Oh and Democrats would also have to keep the House of Representatives and successfully defend seats in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, and whichever other state creeps into “surprisingly competitive” status—in an electoral environment where “horrible for Democrats” is already baked in. Achieving the goal is going to be hard. But at least they have a discrete goal.