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Lindsey Graham’s 15-week abortion bill sends Republicans into containment mode

Eight weeks right out of the midterms, some Republicans in Congress are scrambling to isolate legislation introduced by members of these own party to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks.

Why it matters: The dynamic highlights how dramatically Republicans’ posture on abortion has shifted because the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade spurred a surge of Democratic enthusiasm on the campaign trail.

Driving the news headlines: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dredged up the abortion conversation for Republicans on Tuesday by introducing the 15-week ban, despite saying as recently as last month that the problem ought to be left to the states.

  • Several 88 House members, led by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) along with other co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, introduced a companion bill.

The picture as a whole: Politically, the bill is made to cement a post-Dobbs strategy where Republicans cast themselves as nearer to the mainstream on abortion than congressional Democrats, who largely don’t support any restrictions.

  • Pointing to Senate Democrats’ own failed attempt to codify abortion rights into federal law, Graham said at a press conference: “I thought it might be nice to introduce a bill to define who we have been.”
  • Democrats appeared thrilled to perform with that same message, with campaigns and lawmakers immediately blasting out tweets and fundraising emails tying Republicans to Graham’s support for a national ban.
  • “It clarifies what the decision is, exactly across the lines weve been saying, that is that when they reunite in power, Republicans will ban abortion in every 50 states,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Context: 57% of voters said they oppose a 15-week ban in a Wall Street Journal poll this month, up from 43% in April prior to the leaked Dobbs decision.

What they’re saying: Instead of embrace the bill, Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Graham’s effort and cast it as a distraction.

  • “I believe the majority of the members of my conference prefer that be handled at hawaii level,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a GOP leadership press conference.
  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s deputy, noted Graham’s bill doesn’t mesh well with the GOP’s midterm message: “I believe that a lot of of our members will be out discussing the economy and inflation … and the border and crime, all of the conditions that we think the American folks are discussing.”
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), another person in leadership, told reporters, “We should allow states take that initial role.”

Some House GOP lawmakers are believe it or not hostile with their chambers version of the bill.

  • Asked if Republicans desire to be discussing abortion with the midterms 8 weeks away, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told Axios, Nope! I believe Id be discussing inflation.”
  • “People dont desire to discuss abortion at this time and Im pleased to have the states function as lead with this for some time, said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), among the GOPs most vulnerable incumbents though he added he doesnt think 15 weeks is “bad politics,” calling it a “compromise.”

By the numbers: The amount of members signing onto the latest iterations of the legislation, versus pre-Dobbs bills, supplies a revealing look at how Republican enthusiasm for federal abortion restrictions has dry out.

  • A 20-week ban introduced by Smith last April with exactly the same premise of banning abortions whenever a fetus becomes “pain-capable” had a lot more than doubly many co-sponsors as his 15-week bill.
  • Graham’s previous 20-week companion bill had 45 co-sponsors, nearly the complete Senate Republican Conference.
  • Grahams spokesperson Kevin Bishop said he was still focusing on gathering co-sponsors for his 15-week bill by Tuesday, telling Axios: “The legislation had not been circulated in the Senate before today.”

What were watching: Although some Republican senators have expressed support for the bill and so are likely to to remain, its likely to lack key support from even staunch conservatives.

  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told Axios he doesnt intend to co-sponsor the bill, saying of Graham: “I dont know very well what hes doing because, you understand, we kicked it back again to the states.”

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