Pat Toomey hasn’t decided if he’ll back legislation protecting same-sex marriage. He is sure, however, that Monday is too soon for a vote.
“There’s a lot of complex issues that have not been resolved. And we haven’t even seen text … it does seem that the scheduling has been driven by Sen. Schumer’s political ambitions, rather than an attempt to get an outcome,” the retiring Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s constructive to have a vote on Monday.”
Toomey’s hopes for delay highlight the uncertain whip count for the same-sex marriage bill, which cruised surprisingly through the House with 47 GOP votes in July but is now on shaky ground as backers to try to push past a Republican filibuster. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are racing to finish a proposed amendment that would clarify religious liberty safeguards.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could move as early as Thursday to set up a vote Monday, but Portman said he’s unsure if that timeline will hold.
“I don’t think we have the votes yet,” Portman said. “I don’t want to move ahead unless the votes are there. I’m still talking to people. Others have been more optimistic, but people need some time.”
There isn’t much more time left before the election, though, with no guarantee a post-midterms vote would succeed. And the urgency was apparent on Wednesday afternoon.
Portman, Tillis, Collins and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) met for roughly an hour to finish hashing out their updated version of the legislation. After that sitdown, Baldwin said it was “highly likely” the legislation will be made public on Thursday: “I still think we can do this next week.”
Still, most Senate Republicans don’t sound like they’re feeling political pressure to support legislation whose goals are broadly popular with the public. Republican leaders are not whipping against the bill, even as they remain somewhat dour on its prospects.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday that “I’m not seeing it” when it comes to finding 10 Republicans to support moving forward. At the moment, just three Republicans are committed to the bill, though Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has sounded supportive, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) retracted his previous openness to the latest version. Senate Republicans discussed the matter during their Wednesday party lunch, including an alternative proposal from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The Senate is scheduled to be in session two more weeks in September, as well as two more next month, although leaders could cancel the October weeks if both parties want to go into full-time campaign mode. Some senators say the midterms could be a factor in where the final votes fall; Johnson, for example, is up for reelection.
“It might have a better chance after the election, to be honest,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who is undecided, said of the bill that Democrats initially crafted in response to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Lummis added that she personally does not care about the timing, but it’s “possible” some of her colleagues do.
Schumer declined to put the House-passed bill on the Senate floor in August, giving Baldwin, Sinema and their Republican partners more time to finesse the language and build GOP support. The Democratic leader struck a hopeful tone on the Senate floor on Wednesday, imploring 10 Republicans to help break a filibuster and move forward: “Democrats are ready to make it happen.”
Democratic aides say he’s been focused all along on getting a result, not just putting a tough vote to the GOP before the election, highlighting his patience with the effort and subdued rhetoric.
The House passed a bill enshrining marriage protections in July, a reaction to a concurring opinion by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested, following the overturning of Roe, other issues like marriage could be reconsidered by the high court. The high number of House GOP supporters made Senate passage suddenly seem possible.
With the bill’s fate hanging in the balance, Baldwin did not endorse a delay and said instead that her focus is on winning the first procedural vote needed to get the bill across the finish line. If that happens Monday and the measure overcomes a filibuster to reach the floor, debate would likely dominate Senate action all week.
“We were ready to push for a vote for this right after the House voted overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner to advance this. But now we’re getting ever closer to a certain date in November. And I think that’s a new factor,” Baldwin said.
A spokesperson for Sinema said she’s not looking to delay the bill either, and her attention is on getting the language right. A failed vote could help Democrats in their efforts to portray the GOP as extreme on social issues, but Republican supporters say that would be a disastrous result for a bill that should remain bipartisan. Baldwin said she’s “going to work as hard as I can to make sure that we can get onto the bill next week, and pass it.”
Collins described a laborious behind-the-scenes effort to finish the job, including studying state laws as examples and fielding multiple requests from interested senators.
“You would be surprised at the number of senators who have given us input. And so we’re trying to take each of those suggestions very seriously,” Collins said. “All of that takes more time and as we try to build the number of senators we need.”
Sens. Toomey, Lummis, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mitt Romney of Utah are among the Republicans still undecided. In fact, a surprising number of GOP senators are currently publicly on the fence, though there’s a prevailing view that some new supporters will be revealed if the bill ever actually goes on the Senate floor. Some Republicans may also back the bill if and when proposed religious liberty-related changes are finished.
“With the right religious freedom amendments, I can support it,” Romney said. “Without it, I’d have a very difficult decision to make.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that while he’s ready to bring the legislation to the floor, he’s deferring to Baldwin. Schumer committed earlier this month to bringing up the legislation in the “coming weeks.”
“We’re going to have the vote when we have the votes. It’s that simple,” Tillis said, standing next to Baldwin in a Senate elevator. “We’re working through, with my colleague here, pieces that will be well received.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
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