Democrats See Wins in Losing Votes

Democrats See Wins in Losing Votes


In losing big votes, Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, believes his party stands to win.

Despite certain defeat, Mr. Schumer has scheduled a floor vote for Thursday on a bipartisan border security measure that collapsed almost as soon as it was made public in February, when Donald J. Trump torpedoed it as “lunacy” and “a gift to Democrats.”

Mr. Schumer sees his maneuver as a way to remind voters upset about chaos at the southern border that it is Republicans who are blocking a solution, even after they reached a deal with Democrats that could solve the problem. He insists that the potential political benefits to Democratic candidates in tough races in Ohio, Montana and elsewhere are merely a bonus.

“It’s good for the country,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview, about the legislation. “But obviously, look, if it has electoral consequences, so be it.”

With most of the heavy legislative lifting done for the year and the election that will decide control of Congress fast approaching, Senate Democrats are turning to the “electoral consequences” part of their agenda, and messaging votes will be a regular feature. Mr. Schumer, who has long played a central role in mapping his party’s political strategy, has a two-pronged plan that will unfold in the coming weeks with a focus on abortion rights and border security.

“In the next two months,” Mr. Schumer said, “we have a sword and shield.”

The sword is abortion rights, an issue where Democrats firmly believe — and polls confirm — they have the upper hand with voters following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

They intend to press their advantage with a series of meant-to-fail votes in June on advancing bills to protect access to contraception and in vitro fertilization, which Republicans are all but certain to block. The shield is the border legislation that Democrats see as a way to build a defense against Republican accusations that President Biden and his allies in Congress have allowed an influx of undocumented immigrants to spiral out of control.

Republicans concede that those two issues are likely to dominate the election conversation and help determine the outcome.

“I think the border will probably be President Trump’s best argument, and abortion will be theirs,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

The series of high-profile floor defeats will allow Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents — such as Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — to cast votes on measures that polls show are popular with voters, while reminding the public that Republicans are opposed.

But as Democrats try to build themselves a protective political wall on the border issue, Mr. Cornyn and other Republicans do not think they will succeed.

“This is Washington cynicism at its finest, and the American people won’t be fooled,” said Senator Steve Daines of Montana, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “This is a political stunt.”

“I think it’s too late to turn the narrative on the border,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader and a longtime election strategist himself. “They waited much too long.” But, he added of Mr. Schumer, “I don’t blame him for trying.”

Even Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, the Republican who negotiated the measure with Democrats, said on CNN on Tuesday night that he would oppose his own legislation, saying Mr. Schumer was using the bill as a “prop.” Speaker Mike Johnson also weighed in on Wednesday, accusing Mr. Schumer of orchestrating “a phony messaging exercise that’s going to go nowhere.”

By Mr. Schumer’s calculation, Democrats do not have to completely turn the tables on border security; they just need to neutralize it to some degree and mount a plausible counterargument to the Republican contention that the Biden administration and congressional Democrats allowed a porous border. He says Democrats have already cut into Republican strength on the issue.

“It’s at least 50-50 for us,” Mr. Schumer said. “I don’t think they can come up with a comparable thing on abortion.”

The border bill stalled in February when proponents fell well short of breaking a filibuster, and is unlikely to get even the same level of support it did then. That is because some Democrats were willing to vote for it previously because it was tied to foreign military and humanitarian aid that has since cleared Congress. Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, said on Wednesday that he would oppose the legislation after backing it earlier. The effort to revive the measure has also come under criticism from progressive groups.

But Mr. Schumer and other Democrats say the division in their ranks is evidence that the measure was truly bipartisan and showed that Democrats gave some ground on tougher restrictions. They point to backing from the conservative border patrol agents’ union and acknowledgment from Republicans that the legislation would have eased the flow of migrants across the border had their party not killed it.

Once the Senate dispatches the border bill, Mr. Schumer intends to turn to a series of floor votes on abortion rights — the so-called sword — where Democrats see Republicans as highly vulnerable on an issue that could be the difference between winning and losing in close Senate races.

After the Senate returns from its upcoming Memorial Day recess, Mr. Schumer plans to move forward with legislation to protect access to birth control nationwide, the first of two bills intended to showcase a distinction between Republicans and Democrats on an issue that many Americans believe should have been put to rest long ago.

The following week, Senate Democrats intend to press ahead with similar legislation to protect access to in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments nationwide, after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a frozen embryo was a person, raising questions about whether such procedures would remain legal. Those votes will be followed by events around the country by Democrats to mark the second anniversary of the repeal Roe v. Wade and a Senate vote condemning the ruling.

Republicans are developing legislation of their own to counter the Democratic push. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama have proposed legislation that would block Medicaid funding to states that ban I.V.F., but Democrats dismiss it as woefully insufficient.

Republicans also intend to emphasize that abortion rights should be decided by the states, beginning with a series of votes in November in a handful of states.

“They will have referenda in those states to determine where the voters in that state come down on where the dividing line should be,” said Mr. Cornyn, who called that process the correct constitutional approach.

Mr. Schumer, however, sees the Senate votes on abortion rights and the border proposal as providing a vivid illustration for voters of the gulf between the two parties on key issues.

“We are showing, which is part of our job, how different the two parties are on both these issues,” he said.



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