May 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democratic candidates call on Senate to nix filibuster for Roe

Illustration of an open mouth with the volume symbol next to it surrounded by falling papers
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats across the board are calling for the Senate to eliminate its filibuster so it can codify abortion rights into federal law, following the leak of a draft ruling showing the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Why it matters: The drive to change the filibuster is a measure of Democratic concern about abortion being outlawed in many states. And highlighting that concern could drive up midterm voter turnout in swing contests, where state-by-state battles to keep abortion legal will be a key issue in state, gubernatorial and Senate races.

  • The reality is that in the current 50-50 Senate chamber, even Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have rejected calls to drop or alter the filibuster.
  • That opposition maintains the requirement to get at least 60 votes to cut off debate and pass major legislation.

What they're saying: Wisconsin Senate candidate and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski told Axios in front of the Supreme Court late Monday night, "Why haven't we prioritized this? We've had almost 50 years to codify this into law. The Senate just needs to like get rid of the filibuster and then get this done."

  • Two other Wisconsin Senate candidates, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, also put out statements urging the Senate to blow up the filibuster to codify Roe.

What we're watching: In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman urged Democrats to "act quickly" to get rid of the filibuster to pass the Women's Health Protection Act.

  • In Missouri, Lucas Kunce, a retired Marine and former Pentagon official, tweeted: "Get rid of the filibuster and protect Americans' right to an abortion. Not ready? Get the hell out of the way."
  • In North Carolina, Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court now seeking a Senate nomination, wrote in a statement, "Washington's failure to eliminate the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade to protect our rights has shown us exactly what is at stake."
  • In Ohio — on the eve of that state’s primaries — Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), a candidate for the Senate, wrote Monday night, "Control of the Senate has never been more important: It's time to end the filibuster, pass the Women's Health Protection Act."

Go deeper: Passing a bill enshrine the right to abortion in federal law is the same strategy shared by a number of sitting Democrats, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-N.V.), who both weighed in Monday night.

Nonetheless, there’s no realistic scenario for the Senate eliminating the filibuster for abortion rights.

  • Manchin joined Republicans in blocking the Women's Health Protection Act last month and remains committed to protecting the filibuster.
  • Sinema and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) all have repeatedly supported maintaining the 60-vote threshold.

The bottom line: The long odds for ending the filibuster mean the only realistic option for Democrats to preserve abortion rights — should the court overturn Roe — is to both keep their majority in the House and to gain seats in the Senate in the upcoming November elections.

  • That’s a political longshot given history and current polling.
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