Senate Democrats are working to line up 10 Republican votes to write marriage equality into law, out of reach of the Supreme Court. They say they’re optimistic about getting those votes, and will put the matter to the full Senate when the votes are lined up. This is a mistake.
Democrats need to hold the vote as soon as possible, and “possible” does not mean “when they have 10 Republicans locked down.” Otherwise, they are playing directly into the hands of Republicans who openly oppose marriage equality and Republicans who don't want to have to make this decision and go on the record publicly.
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As of last week, five Senate Republicans said they would vote yes on a marriage equality bill. This week, one of them, Sen. Thom Tillis, told CNN, “There are more,” and another of them, Sen. Susan Collins, said they were “very close” to getting 10.
But what a number of Republicans who wouldn’t commit one way or the other were saying was that they would not commit until a vote was scheduled.
“I'll see if it comes up, and then I'll make a decision,” said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Indiana Sen. Mike Braun similarly said they wouldn’t take a position until a vote actually happens. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I am not going to make an observation about that until the issue is actually brought up in the Senate,” which tells you that this is an official Republican talking point.
So why is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, “We are trying—working real hard—to get 10 Republican senators. Between that and the illnesses, we're not there yet”? Why is Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic point person on lining up support, saying, “We will move when we're sure we have 10”?
Republicans are out here telling you they aren’t going to commit, in a way that makes clear they’re hoping they don’t have to. They will dangle the possibility of 10 votes to get Democrats to put off the vote and sacrifice any possible policy momentum. It’s blazingly obvious what’s going on, and Democrats need to call the bluff.
If, when they’re put on the spot, it turns out that there are indeed 10 (or more!) Republican votes, that’s a huge policy win for the country and for millions of people whose rights are secured and whose marriages are protected. If there are not 10 votes, that’s something for Democratic Senate candidates in key swing states to run on. But the only way to know—and to potentially get that major policy win—is to hold the damn vote. Now. Not after August recess, which should be canceled anyway. Definitely not after August recess, plus several weeks of delay in which Democrats keep insisting it will be soon, they’re almost there. NOW.
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