Progressive senator to Sanders and Schumer: Stop lying to voters on Roe v. Wade -- we got rolled
Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at the Family Arena. (

With the Supreme Court slated to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming months, there’s been a loud and growing chorus from most elected Democrats focusing the party’s voters, activists, and donors on the usual suspect, the filibuster. There’s a problem though: Overhauling the filibuster – whether this week or four months from now – would do nothing for the millions of women on the verge of losing their reproductive rights.

In the aftermath of the leak, high profile progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), immediately called for nuking the filibuster. With women’s rights at stake, they’ve been joined by many rank and file Democrats who are scrambling to show voters resolve while also giving them hope, even if its currently false hope.

Similarly, this week Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has teed up a vote on a measure codifying reproductive rights. Here’s the thing though: Everyone in Washington knows it’s destined for failure. Even Schumer knows this. He already brought it up for a show vote this February where it failed 46-48. Still, Schumer is delivering a flurry of action, even as others fear Democratic officials are playing to the cameras and people’s fears, when they should be employing “radical honesty.”

“We have to be absolutely blunt about what we can and can't do. And right now, we cannot change what the Supreme Court is about to do,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Raw Story while riding the tram under the Capitol.

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The progressive senator isn’t surrendering. Rather, he wants Democrats to regroup and strategize, not promise the base something the party can’t deliver. It took opponents 50 years to rescind Roe. Once the Supreme Court’s final opinion comes out, Democrats instantly move from defense to offense in their new, potentially decades-long battle.

We can fight back against it,” Schatz continued. “It just requires a sustained strategy that’s real and not just trolling for clicks and retweets and campaign contributions. Can’t just fundraise off it!”

But fundraise off it they are. The day after the draft opinion was leaked both Majority Leader Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) blasted out fundraising appeals. And a Senate vote this week ensures maximum coverage, which political consultants and campaign managers coast to coast are eager to fundraise off.

Money isn’t everything. Democrats are trying to harness the natural outpouring of anger from their voters and turn it into electoral gains. For most Democratic officeholders, a central part of their pitch is a promise to make Congress more democratic through blunting the minority party’s ability to filibuster.

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“That has been my position for quite a while,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told Raw Story while walking in the Capitol. “People all across our country should respond with outrage [over] this attack on a woman's constitutional right to control her own body.”

But what do they do with that outrage? Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wants to use it to blow up the filibuster. She says polls steadily show majority support for abortion access. And in Congress, “so many Democrats” support it and they’re the majority party, after all.

“If we had something like 50 votes, we could pass this if we didn't have the filibuster,” Klobuchar told Raw Story in Washington.

But Democrats don’t have 50 votes. Sure, there are 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) still opposes the Women's Health Protection Act. In February, he voted with Republicans to block that abortion measure from even being debated in the Senate. It failed 46-48. Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Ben Ray Lujan (NM), and Raphael Warnock (GA) all missed that vote, and each of them is a co-sponsor. While Democrats have 49 votes, they don’t have 50. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from listening to Democrats.

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“We can change the filibuster to preserve life and human rights – preserving the lives of women who will die if Roe v. Wade is eviscerated,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Raw Story at the Capitol.

No they can’t. At least they can’t change the filibuster today. Democrats don’t have the votes to change the Senate rules. More so, even if they could overhaul the filibuster, they don’t have enough Democratic support to pass the abortion bill taking center stage on the Senate floor this week.

“We don't have the votes, so there's nothing to do,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told Raw Story after leaving a weekly private lunch for Democratic senators. “My read is that Sens. Manchin and Sinema are not changing their position, so the work we have to do is much more connected to the upcoming elections and future elections.”

Murphy supports destroying the filibuster at the soonest possible moment, but, unlike many of his Democratic colleagues, he isn’t pushing it in the context of Roe v. Wade being overturned. With polls showing Republicans slated to reap big congressional gains this November, Murphy isn’t concerned that obliterating the filibuster will empower a potential Republican Senate majority next year.

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“My position on the filibuster is connected to my belief that it's fundamentally anti-democratic. I accept the fact that a 50-vote threshold will sometimes help Republican causes, and it will sometimes help Democratic causes,” Murphy said.

For other Democrats, the Roe v. Wade bombshell itself warrants a filibuster funeral.

“This is a clarifying moment,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told Raw Story outside the Capitol, with the court in sight. “This is a perfect example of why we should allow the majority sentiment in the country to prevail: the overwhelming majority of the American people are in favor of protecting reproductive freedoms and codifying Roe v. Wade.”

Again, polls steadily show Van Hollen is technically correct. But polls aren’t people, especially not congresspeople. And there are simply not enough votes, according to Van Hollen’s own Democratic colleagues.

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Republicans prospects are great in November, and Republicans are bullish they can recapture at least one, though possibly both chambers of Congress. That means Mitch McConnell would preside over a filibuster-free Senate. That’s not a huge concern to Van Hollen because there’s a Democrat in the White House.

“You have President Biden in the White House, right? So you’re not going to have Republicans in the next couple years succeed in taking away reproductive choice as a matter of federal statutory law,” Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen seems to have forgotten the buyer’s remorse many Democrats had after the party blew up parts of the filibuster under former Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama, so they could seat backlogged judicial and executive branch nominees.

Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees. When he got the gavel back, McConnell – using the recent precedent from Democrats – quickly nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That move eventually resulted in McConnell’s remake of the court, seating three new Federalist Society-approved judges; the ones who voted to repeal 50 years of protections for women.

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After supporting Harry Reid’s filibuster reform as a freshman senator, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) later wished he could take it back. But there are no take backs in Congress.

“I have come over time to regret…changing the rules,” Coons told his colleagues from the Senate floor back in 2017, right before McConnell and Republicans followed Democrat’s lead and destroyed the filibuster so they could swiftly seat Neil Gorsuch on the court.

Last week, after the leak-heard-round-the-world, Coons rebuffed Raw Story’s question about filibuster reform, regret, and Roe v. Wade.

"I'm sorry. I'm out of energy. I'm out of time. I'm tired. Leave me alone," Coons said.

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Regrets aside, there’s growing pressure on Democrats to upend he filibuster, even as Sen. Schatz of Hawaii and a few others continue trying to refocus the party on the possible, instead of all the outrage-fueled – and somewhat misleading – fundraising appeals being blasted out daily from the Capitol.

“The cold hard truth is,” Schatz contends, “that the way to respond to a Supreme Court that has gone completely out of control is to give us a couple of more seats in the United States Senate so we can codify Roe and to win legislatures across the country so they can establish a statutory right to abortion.”

Roe v. Wade has motivated Republicans for decades, even as it was never a huge motivator on the left. Democrats are banking on that changing now that abortion “is on the ballot” this November and for the foreseeable future.

“It’s real now,” Schatz said of the Democratic base not getting as excited as Republican base Roe going away. “I'm for all of those progressive objectives – eliminating the filibuster and codifying Roe – but we don't have the votes yet. And there's a way to remedy that, which is we have to win in November.”

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