National Abortion Ban Could Come To A Vote If Republicans Win Congress : The NPR Politics Podcast After initially being reluctant to talk about the substance of the leaked Supreme Court opinion, GOP lawmakers have begun to campaign on the exaggerated notion that Democratic lawmakers support abortion until the moment of birth. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the possibility of bringing a national abortion ban to a vote if Republicans take power in the midterms, though the Biden White House would almost certainly veto such a bill.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, acting congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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National Abortion Ban Could Come To A Vote If Republicans Win Congress

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JOSH: This is Josh (ph) in Kansas City, Kan., and I am sitting here with my 3-year-old son, Xander (ph). Say hi, Xander.

XANDER: Hi.

JOSH: He is eating rock candy that he has just bought with his own money after riding his balance bike three-quarters of a mile down to the local store for the first time. This podcast was recorded at...

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

1:32 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, May 9.

JOSH: Things might have changed by the time you hear this, but I will still be having adventures with my son. OK. Here's the show. Say bye.

XANDER: Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KHALID: Aw.

(LAUGHTER)

KHALID: Adorable.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Nice job, Xander.

KHALID: You know, I did buy one of those balance bikes recently for my kid, but, like, he's not really into it, and he's 3, too. Motivation here.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Is he tipping over?

KHALID: You know, I think he gets nervous about the - like, not really having full sense of control on it. Did you ever use one of it with your kids?

MONTANARO: No, I didn't. But I think if you offer rock candy as an incentive maybe that will...

KHALID: Oh, maybe, maybe.

WALSH: (Laughter) It's all about the candies. Scooters are really the thing now.

KHALID: Yes, exactly. Well, hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And the big political news this week continues to be the fight over abortion. Last week, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked, and it seems to have upended how the GOP is talking about the end of constitutional protections for abortion access, a long-sought goal of the party. On today's show, we'll talk about how Republicans plan to regroup and refocus if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. The other day on this podcast, we talked about how Democrats have been responding to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision. If you all missed that episode, I do suggest go into your feed, checking it out. It was quite a good episode. But today, again, the focus is on Republicans, what they have been saying about the decision and what they noticeably have not.

So, Deirdre, I want to start with you. You know, when the news of this Supreme Court draft decision being leaked first came out, a lot of Republicans, it seemed, on Capitol Hill were reluctant to talk about the substance of the draft, right? They wanted to focus on the leak itself. But then over the weekend, this top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, said it's possible the Senate could, moving forward, consider a national ban on abortion. I mean, what is that all about?

WALSH: That's quite a switch from McConnell. I mean, the day after the draft opinion leaked, McConnell was lecturing reporters saying that we should be focusing on the news of the day, which was the leak. And he wouldn't address the substance of what it meant. And now over the weekend, he spoke to USA Today and said that it's possible if the draft opinion holds and the Supreme Court overturns Roe and if Republicans regain the majority, that there could be a vote on a nationwide ban in the Congress. And as the top Senate Republican who is in line to regain the position of Senate majority leader, that means Mitch McConnell is sort of hanging it out there, that this is sort of what - this could be the next step in Congress if this pattern holds.

And I think what he's doing is responding to the Democrats, who have scheduled to vote this week on a bill that would codify Roe vs. Wade, to energize his Republican base. I mean, we've seen how much Democrats are warning their base about what's at stake and what this means and how it could change things. And I think what McConnell is doing is holding this out there like our base also needs to get out there and show up in big numbers. This is a conservative priority he has personally been focused on for years as somebody who's been in charge of confirming federal judges as the Senate majority leader. And it's something that he'll continue to focus on.

KHALID: But, Domenico, I do want to ask you about what is next for conservatives, for Republicans? Because it seems like they're on the cusp of getting something that they have long campaigned for, overturning Roe vs. Wade. And now we begin to hear, you know, kind of more desires that folks on the right have, right? Like, overturning Roe vs. Wade is no longer, it seems, potentially the only end game. And what does it mean for Republicans going forward?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, this has always been an issue. You know, for almost 50 years now, we've been talking about abortion as a huge piece of the, you know, way that conservatives are able to fire up their base. What do they do when or if abortion rights are not on the table as something for them to have to, you know, use to fire up their base in the culture wars? Now, what they are doing is pointing back at Democrats and calling them extreme and saying, you know, there was a memo that went out last week from the National Republican Senatorial Committee that is, you know, in charge of trying to help Republican senators get reelected and have Republicans elected to the Senate who are challenging Democrats. And one of the things that they said was expose Democrats for the extreme views they hold. Joe Biden and the Democrats have extreme and radical views on abortion that are outside the mainstream of most Americans. And the way they're doing that is taking and sometimes manipulating some of the words that Democrats are saying in some interviews to pin them on restrictions to say when someone talks around it, they say, no, they're actually not in favor of any restrictions when that's not exactly what they said.

WALSH: I think you'll hear a lot of that same rhetoric from Senate Republicans this week. I mean, we're looking at this vote on Wednesday on this Democratic bill that would codify Roe vs. Wade. And, you know, there were a couple of Republicans out on the Sunday shows this weekend. Texas Republican Ted Cruz was one of them. And he's talking about it as a radical bill, as Domenico said, that would sort of, like, provide abortion on demand. And that's sort of his way of trying to paint Democrats as extreme on this issue, when the Democrats will say their bill just codifies the current law, which they point to, you know, plenty of polls showing the majority of Americans support the current law.

MONTANARO: There's a lot of actually common ground on this issue. You know, it really depends on the number of weeks that people say that they're OK with an abortion taking place or not. When it comes to what the Supreme Court is doing or potentially would do with this draft opinion that came out, what Republicans are doing with that is kind of a bait and switch because the conservative majority of the court is saying it could overturn Roe v. Wade. But Roe v. Wade itself is pretty popular with most people. Some two-thirds of Americans or more are saying don't overturn Roe, that they are in favor of restrictions. And we should note that in this country, almost 9 in 10 abortions took place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when all of what you wind up hearing about that conservatives sort of get upset with or make as the most extreme example is saying that Democrats would be in favor of abortion happening all the way to birth.

WALSH: I think you're also going to see a split in terms of how Republicans address the issue of abortion depending on what state they represent, what district they represent...

KHALID: Geographically, yeah.

WALSH: ...Or, you know, in the case of Republican challengers in Senate and House races, you know, sort of where they're running. I talked to a Democratic strategist last week who said, you know, in states like Nevada and New Hampshire, where the majority of the population in the state favors the current regime in terms of abortion rights, it's harder for Republicans in those states to make an issue out of this, or they don't want to be linked to someone like McConnell or other Republicans talking about a nationwide ban because that's unpopular in their state. So I think it's going to be hard to sort of nail down a uniform Republican position. I think that it'll depend on sort of which Republican we're talking about and where they're running. But, you know, clearly, Democrats want to make this a big issue in the midterm elections. And like Domenico was saying, with these talking points, you can tell already that the national party committees don't want to go there in a lot of places because they know it's unpopular. So they focus on sort of the extreme positions or trying to paint the Democrats as extreme.

KHALID: All right, let's take a quick break. We'll have lots more to discuss in just a moment.

And we're back. And, Domenico, let's start by talking a little bit more clearly about how the Republican Party itself has been framing this issue.

MONTANARO: Yeah. One exchange at the White House might actually shed some light on a little bit of this. We had an exchange between Peter Doocy of Fox News and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, and then we'll see how Republicans framed this afterward.

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PETER DOOCY: The president's position on choice has evolved over time, so just checking for his official position. Does he support any limits on abortion right now?

JEN PSAKI: Peter, the president has spoken - has talked about his position many times. He supports the right of a woman to make choices about her own body with her doctor.

DOOCY: But I know that one of the Democrats that he endorsed and who won their primary this week, Tim Ryan, said yesterday that he does not support any limits on abortion. Is that where the president's thinking is now?

PSAKI: The president has stated his view many times.

DOOCY: So does the president support abortion up until the moment of birth?

PSAKI: The president has spoken about this many times, Peter, and I would refer you to his own comments about abortion and a woman's right to choose and make decisions about her body with her doctor, which is what any of those women would do.

MONTANARO: When you look at how the RNC framed this in their tweet in reaction to this, it's very different than what you just heard because what they have here is, reporter - does Biden support any limits on abortion? Psaki - no. Well, she didn't say that. And reporter - does the president support abortion until the moment of birth? Psaki- yes. She never said yes, either. So this is what we're seeing, you know, in attempt to sort of reduce what Democrats' words are on this subject to make it sound like Democrats are extreme and don't support any limits on abortion. But, you know, Republicans do have this bill that Democrats are voting on this week that is sort of giving them a little bit of fuel to their fire on this because it does talk about lifting most restrictions on abortions that would take place. And, you know, but there is one section here where it says no, quote, "prohibition on abortion after fetal viability when in good faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health." In other words, a state could still put restrictions on somebody after, you know, let's say 23, 24 weeks when viability is determined, you know, based on Roe, you know, up until, you know, the end of term, except for when there's - a doctor determines that the patient's life is in danger or there's a serious health issue. The question here is, what does health mean? And there's a lot going into that. And, you know, that's where Republicans are sort of taking their facts on this from and sort of, you know, twisting a little bit what Democrats are saying.

KHALID: So I want to also talk about how this is playing out in some specific states. You know, it's worth pointing out that the case that the Supreme Court is actually taking up right now comes from Mississippi. And Mississippi's governor, Tate Reeves, was out and about on the Sunday shows this weekend. And one of the programs that he appeared on was "State Of The Union" on CNN with Jake Tapper.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

JAKE TAPPER: So just to be clear, you have no intention of seeking to ban IUDs or Plan B?

TATE REEVES: That is not what we are focused on at this time. We're focused on looking at - see what the court allows for. The bill that is before the court is a 15-week ban. We believe that the overturning of Roe is the correct decision by the court.

WALSH: So this issue about what the Roe draft decision could mean for other issues is something that I talked to a lot of Senate Republicans about last week. And, you know, just - if you follow the reasoning of this decision, could it be extended to things like same-sex marriage, to contraception? - as the governor was asked. And most Republicans did not want to go there. They basically said, you know, the way we read this draft decision is it's confined to the issue of abortion. And they didn't want to get into the fact that it could put other rights that could come before the court at risk of, you know, changing the current law. I mean, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer jumped on that issue and immediately said, you know, this means they could be coming next for same-sex marriage. They could be coming next for contraception. But Republicans have really wanted to stay away from that.

MONTANARO: And on the issue of abortion itself, I mean, someone like Tate Reeves and a lot of other Republicans we've heard from are essentially saying let the states decide. And that's sort of been the mantra that you're hearing over and over again. Now, of course, if Roe is overturned, that could obviously result in a very bifurcated set of laws throughout the country.

KHALID: All right. Well, let's leave it there for today. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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