Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Republicans quietly embrace Trump's cover on abortion

Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at a rally on April 02, 2024 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Former President Trump speaks to guests at a rally on April 2 in Green Bay, Wis. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Trump's decision to not back a federal abortion ban provides some cover for Republicans on their most politically vulnerable issue in the middle of a high-stakes election year.

Why it matters: The presumptive GOP nominee's statement effectively ends any serious talk about trying to pass a federal abortion ban — at least for now — and solidifies a stance that the GOP has increasingly been adopting post-Roe.

  • Multiple Republican sources told Axios that Trump's move was "smart" and reflects where they believe most of America is in the post-Roe era.
  • Even Republicans who may quietly support abortion restrictions recognize the political landmine the issue is and have been hesitant to support any such efforts.

What they're saying: "Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion. Period," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Axios. "[T[hat's a lie you're hearing from the Democrats to scare voters."

  • Daines was one of two original co-sponsors on a 15-week federal abortion ban introduced months after Roe was overturned.
  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters that Trump's view likely reflected the current consensus among the majority of Republicans — but "that could change over time." Thune is a contender to replace McConnell as leader and supported the 15-week ban in 2022.
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is also running for leader, said it was a "practical matter" to leave abortion standards to the states because there weren't 60 votes in the Senate. He did not answer when asked what he would do if he became majority leader.

The intrigue: There still will be conservative detractors in favor of a national ban and aligned with a network of anti-abortion groups who expressed only mild, vague support if not outright disappointment in Trump's Monday statement.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump's closest confidantes, said he "respectfully disagrees" with the former president — drawing a string of outraged posts from Trump on Truth Social.
  • Graham introduced the 15-week national ban in 2022, which at the time was viewed as a compromise position. He has yet to introduce any kind of national abortion ban this session — for the first time in years, as NBC News reported.

Between the lines: Senate Republicans have largely been quiet on where they stand when it comes to federal restrictions on abortion since the Supreme Court's decision.

  • Just nine of them joined Graham's bill.

What to watch: A number of Republican candidates running in competitive states mirrored Trump's stance on abortion.

  • "I am pro-life and believe the issue is now correctly left at the state level," Nevada Republican Sam Brown said in a statement.
  • Arizona Republican Kari Lake, a top Trump ally, said on X that she does not support a federal abortion ban and that "policy should be up to individual states."
  • A spokesperson for Ohio Republican Bernie Moreno told Axios that he "has always said it should be primarily decided at the state level."
  • "I agree with President Trump that the issue of abortion should be decided at the state level," said Michigan candidate Mike Rogers, who promised to take "no action as [Michigan voters'] voice in Washington that is at odds with the Michigan Constitution."
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