Messaging Time In The Senate

[ Posted Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024 – 15:57 UTC ]

With most of the "must-pass" legislation already out of the way for this year, both the House and the Senate are now planning a series of what are commonly called "messaging bills." These are bills that have one main intent -- not to pass the other house of Congress and become law, but instead to "send a message" to the voters. It's a polite way of saying "generating partisan talking points to use on the campaign trail."

The House will continue to attempt to pass the most Draconian budget bills they can dream up, however this effort might just devolve into a huge intraparty Republican donnybrook, as it did last year. They tried to pass all the individual budget bills, but only managed to complete about half of them due to sharp differences within the GOP conference. All they really achieved in the end was wasting an enormous amount of time. All the budget bills they did manage to pass immediately died in the Senate, which is exactly what will happen to any bills they manage to pass this summer.

Over in the Democratic-held Senate, however, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is teeing up what he calls a "sword and a shield" approach to two of the biggest issues resonating in the 2024 campaign: the southern border and abortion rights. From the New York Times today:

The sword is abortion rights, an issue where Democrats firmly believe -- and polls confirm -- they have the upper hand with voters following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

They intend to press their advantage with a series of meant-to-fail votes in June on advancing bills to protect access to contraception and in vitro fertilization, which Republicans are all but certain to block. The shield is the border legislation that Democrats see as a way to build a defense against Republican accusations that President Biden and his allies in Congress have allowed an influx of undocumented immigrants to spiral out of control.

Republicans concede that those two issues are likely to dominate the election conversation and help determine the outcome.

"I think the border will probably be President Trump's best argument, and abortion will be theirs," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

The series of high-profile floor defeats will allow Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents -- such as Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio -- to cast votes on measures that polls show are popular with voters, while reminding the public that Republicans are opposed.

The border bill will come up first. This is the bipartisan bill that was worked out earlier this year and was attached to the bigger foreign aid package (for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan). It is largely a Republican-written bill and, if passed, would be the strictest border security bill that has passed in a generation (at the very least). Republicans should have been proud of this effort, since the Democrats gave them most of what they wanted in the bill while asking very little in return (the entire border agreement was seen as balanced by the Democratic priority of passing the foreign aid package). However, Donald Trump came out against the idea, because he wanted to campaign on the issue all year long. If Democrats and Republicans in Congress actually passed something to improve border security, it would have defused the issue in the political arena, and Trump really didn't want that to happen. So Schumer is going to bring this bill up again as a standalone piece of legislation, just to get Republicans on the record voting against it.

This is the whole point of messaging bills. They are used as ammunition in campaign ads: "Senator Fatcat says he wants to fix the border problem, but when a Republican-written bill which would have done that came up for a vote, he voted against it! He doesn't care about fixing the problem, he just likes to yell about it."

The bill is currently scheduled for a vote tomorrow, and it is certain to fail. After Trump came out against it, few Republicans voted for it the first time around, and even fewer will likely vote for it this time. Even the Republican who negotiated the measure (Senator James Lankford) has said he's going to vote against his own bill. Fewer Democrats will likely vote for it as well (since some of them voted for it earlier as a part of the whole foreign aid package, which they wanted to see passed, but without that component they are free to vote against a strict border bill). But it'll give some vulnerable Democrats in battleground states political cover out on the campaign trail, which is why Schumer is bringing it up again. He's hoping this vote will help defuse the issue for Democrats, since they can rightfully claim that Republicans are refusing to improve the border situation in any way.

Next will come the "sword" part of the plan. Schumer is planning, after Memorial Day, to bring up a bill which would enact nationwide protections for birth control, which would pre-empt any Republican state legislatures from trying to institute bans or restrictions on various birth control methods. Next will be legislation to enact federal protections for I.V.F. While the contraception thing is somewhat theoretical, protecting I.V.F. is not. Alabama's supreme court already showed that passing "personhood" laws (which bestow constitutional rights on a fertilized egg cell) can mean the end of I.V.F. as it is practiced today. It is a real danger, in other words. And while Republicans scrambled to somehow square the circle of supporting personhood laws and I.V.F., this vote will put them on the record for whether I.V.F. rights should have federal protection nationwide.

Republicans are vulnerable on all of this. They're most vulnerable on the subject of abortion rights, but these peripheral subjects are prime areas for Democrats to prove something to the voters: Republicans talk a good line on how supportive they are of things like contraception and I.V.F., but then they refuse to vote for them when given the chance. Their "support" is nothing more than lip service, obviously. Forcing them to go on the record voting against bills to protect these rights proves beyond a shadow of a doubt which side of the issue they are truly on. Which is a big deal to a whole lot of voters -- especially suburban women.

Of course, even if bills guaranteeing contraception rights or I.V.F. rights somehow managed to pass the Senate (which is highly doubtful, considering the 60-vote supermajority necessary), they would stand no chance in the Republican House. They'd never even get a vote, most likely.

As messaging bills go, Schumer's "sword and shield" plan seems like a good one. Sure, you could call the whole thing a waste of congressional time for purely partisan purposes, but such messaging bills are a traditional tool of politics and Democrats should not shy away from using this tool to the maximum extent possible. Border policies and women's rights are both excellent places to start, but there are other issues that could be brought up for a vote as well, just to educate the public as to which party is on which side of each. It might be a good idea to bring up some voting rights bills again, or perhaps some Supreme Court ethics reform ideas. But for now, Schumer's "sword and shield" seems like a good place to start.

Let the messaging begin....

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


8 Comments on “Messaging Time In The Senate”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Messaging time on the campaign trail, too!

    How would everyone here feel about a Trump-Haley ticket?

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    It's a polite way of saying "generating partisan talking points to use on the campaign trial."

    Campaign trial!? Heh.

    Trumpian Freudian slip. ;)

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    "Senator Fatcat says he wants to fix the border problem, but when a Republican-written bill which would have done that came up for a vote, he voted against it! He doesn't care about fixing the problem, he just likes to yell about it."

    Senator Fatcat also voted against it because Bigly Lying Election Denying Citizen Defendant Fatcat has him on a short leash because when you're a Fatcat, you're a mewling pussy.

    Two cats, one stone. :)

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    how dare you talk about former speaker kevin mccarthy that way.

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Whoops! ok, fixed...

    mea culpa


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I thought the 'campaign trial' was priceless. You should have kept it in! :-)

  7. [7] 
    Kick wrote:

    Chris Weigant

    Whoops! ok, fixed...

    Wait, what!? The Trumpian Freudian slip was perfect exactly the way it was!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    See what you've done. ;)

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