Sep 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans' same-sex marriage poker face

Illustration of GOP logo filled in with the rainbow flag colors on one half and shades of gray on the other half.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Senators who are whipping Republican support for a bill to codify marriage equality are bullish on its chances of passing — but some supporters’ names may not be known until the vote occurs, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: With the House passing the bill in July and President Biden expected to sign it if it reaches his desk, the Senate stands as the primary hurdle.

State of play: Democrats need the votes of 10 Republicans in order to break a filibuster, but only a handful have come out publicly in support of the bill so far.

The intrigue: Don't expect to find out all the Republican senators supporting the legislation until the actual vote, a source close to the negotiations told Axios.

  • "There are some who have given their support for the legislation privately," the source said. "You’re not going to see 10 Republicans announce their support for it before they actually vote."
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who has been championing the bill, told Axios: "I have certainly had conversations where Republicans have privately indicated to me that they will support it."
  • “There are a couple that might be in that category,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another one of the senators involved in the talks.

Between the lines: Public polling in recent years has found that while gay marriage is widely supported in the U.S., it remains a divisive issue among Republican voters.

  • By waiting until the vote itself to make their positions known, Republican senators may be able to avoid drawn-out media coverage and limit political backlash from their base.

Driving the news: Senior Senate Democrats have in recent days considered attaching it to a "continuing resolution" that must be passed to temporarily fund the government, according to a Democratic Hill source.

  • That would make it a part of what White House has described as "critical" legislation, while allowing leadership to conserve precious Senate floor time.

Yes, but: This idea has received bipartisan pushback.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) offered an emphatic "yeah," when asked at the Capitol on Tuesday if Republicans would have a problem with it.
  • “I think it’ll be a reason some of my colleagues might vote against the CR,” said Portman, arguing the move would hurt the odds of both bills passing.
  • Baldwin said it is not her "preferred path" because she wants to vote on the bill "sooner rather than later."

What we're watching: The bill's backers have signaled the Republican votes are coming together.

Baldwin said "informal" conversations took place over the recess and — with the Senate back in session — there will be “face-to-face” talks to "firm that up."

  • Her office told Axios she "is confident that she will be able to earn the 10 GOP votes necessary" and "plans to meet with her Republican colleagues this week to compare notes on their outreach efforts to build support."
  • Baldwin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) are leading the effort to gather GOP support for the bill, along with with Portman, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), sources told Axios' Alayna Treene.
  • Collins told Politico: "We’re in pretty good shape."

What’s next: The group is hoping to shore up Republican support with an amendment to clarify that the bill does not infringe on religious freedom, which was first reported by Axios.

  • "We've been sharing it around ... with members," Baldwin said of the amendment.
  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he has had staff-level negotiations on the bill, adding: "My focus is on ensuring that we protect religious liberties."
  • "Religious liberty is a real, serious concern," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who, like Romney, is a key vote on the bill.
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