Senate Democrats Focus on 2024 Plans to Keep Majority

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With limited legislative working weeks before November, Senate Democrats are pivoting to more messaging bills as an election-year strategy to boost vulnerable incumbents.

Legislation lacking significant Republican support and likely to fail is expected to become increasingly common among Senate Democrats, including a border security proposal that faced its second defeat this week and a contraception bill poised for a similar fate next month.

Democratic leaders promise more such measures will reach the floor, a tactic they present as emphasizing their policy differences with Republicans to voters.

“You’re going to have to wait with bated breath to determine what’s next,” quipped Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the third-ranking Democrat. “There will be other opportunities.”

Democrats are contending with eight competitive Senate races, none of which they can afford to lose if they hope to maintain their majority.

“These are not gimmicks. These are real issues that people in America care very deeply about,” stated Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), who leads Senate Democrats’ campaign operations. “Folks should vote and be on the record.”

This election-focused approach is alienating even those in the GOP who are most willing to negotiate on significant policy issues, reducing the chances for bipartisan achievements in the Senate before the elections. The chamber’s 60-vote threshold necessitates the support of at least nine Republicans for nearly any legislative initiative.

“Seems to me, the Democrats are getting deep into messaging amendments as opposed to serious legislation,” commented Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

The centrist Republican argued that if Democrats were serious about legislating, they would allow a vote on a bipartisan bill she co-authored to restore national abortion rights by codifying Roe v. Wade into law, which also includes contraception protections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated that they would instead vote on a bill to codify federal protections solely for contraception after Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hinted he might support restrictions, and as some states attempt to limit access to abortion medication or birth control for certain individuals.

Democrats facing tight reelections eagerly support the border and contraception votes.

“Could it help that I’m fighting for my constituents to get their rights and freedoms back?” asked Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), an incumbent with a formidable Republican challenger. “Absolutely.”

Senate Democrats Focus on 2024 Plans to Keep Majority
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters following a Democratic strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump later reversed his contraception comments, declaring on social media that he had “never, and will never advocate imposing restrictions on birth control or other contraceptives.” This did not quell the strong backlash from Democrats, including the Biden campaign.

“Now more than ever, contraception is a critical piece of protecting women’s reproductive freedoms, standing as nothing short of a vital lifeline for millions of American women across the country,” Schumer stated.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), co-author of the border bill, accused Democrats of “fearmongering” over contraception.

“No one’s taking away your right to contraception,” he asserted. “That’s why this is political posturing during an election year.”

The border security bill began as a bipartisan effort in February but quickly faltered under GOP backlash, including opposition from Trump. Democrats’ attempt to revive it last week met an even worse defeat with a 43-50 vote, as six Democrats and independents joined nearly all Republicans to vote against it.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was the lone Republican to back it. Lankford, who initially supported it, opposed it in the second vote.

“The American people have already made their mind up about who’s responsible for the mess at the border,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). “No amount of political maneuvering is going to change that perception and that reality.”

Ramsey Touchberry
Ramsey Touchberry
Ramsey Touchberry is a Capitol Hill Reporter focusing on energy and environment. Previously, Ramsey covered Congress for Newsweek and was a multimedia reporter at a local NPR and PBS affiliate in Florida. A native of the Sunshine State, Ramsey graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in broadcast and digital journalism.

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