What Johnson’s same-sex marriage reversal may mean for other Republican votes

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If the Senate ultimately decides not to join the House in codifying a right to same-sex marriage in America, Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) new comments could be seen, in retrospect, as a turning point.

In a newly reported video of Johnson’s comments to supporters last week, the Wisconsin senator said he would not support the bill “as it stands”, after previously saying he had seen “no reason to oppose” this.

The reversal not only deprives the effort of one of the few Republicans who had suggested they lean in favor of the bill — Democrats likely need the votes of 10 Republicans to erase a filibuster — but it also comes from someone who apparently had a lot of reason to vote for, as Johnson’s previous comments make clear.

Johnson is seeking re-election in a competitive race — the most competitive of any GOP incumbent, in fact. Plus, he won’t face GOP primary voters again until at least 2028 (if ever, given he wasn’t certain he’d run for another term this year). He also struck a pragmatic tone in his past comments, saying in 2014, even before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage that, “if voters decide they want same-sex marriage, i’m not going to oppose it.”

The House passed a bill on July 19 recognizing same-sex marriages at the federal level with bipartisan support. (Video: Reuters)

Americans have decided they want same-sex marriage, with 71% support it in the latest Gallup poll. But Johnson still says he won’t support this bill. (Johnson blamed his earlier comment on a desire “to get [the media] on my back. “)

The House passed the bill in July, and at the time it seemed to have good prospects in the Senate.

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A total of 47 House Republicans crossed over to vote with Democrats, even though their votes weren’t needed to pass the bill. They also did so even as their colleagues called the vote unnecessary, as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Democrats argue the vote is necessary and wise because the Supreme Court has recently canceled an even older precedent: the right to an abortion.

The 23% of House Republicans voting for him, if replicated in the Senate, would be enough to eliminate the filibuster. And comments from the GOP leadership in July — particularly the party’s No. 2 Senate, Sen. John Thune (SD) — suggested the bill might finally pass without too much fanfare.

“As you saw, there was a pretty big vote – a bipartisan vote – last night in the House of Representatives,” Thune said. said at the time. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case in the Senate.”

The House on July 19 approved a bill that would federally protect same-sex marriages, but it’s unclear whether the legislation can pass the Senate. (Video: Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

The precise provenance of those votes is another matter – as are the political calculations involved. Meaning. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said they would vote for the bill; The senses. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.) indicated they would likely support him as well. Some had assumed Johnson would be a fifth yes vote, based on his past comments.

And this quintet made sense. Collins and Murkowski are moderates, Portman is retiring (and has a personal connection to the question), Tillis comes from a competitive state and Johnson is the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in 2022.

But others who might seem to have the leeway to come up with yes have been reluctant. Incumbent Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and Richard Burr (RN.C.) did not weigh in definitively. (Burr made it clear he was leaning against it, after it was previously reported he would oppose it.) The second most vulnerable Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), has mostly focused on the supposed uselessness of the bill, at some point. dot label it”a stupid waste of time.”

Some Republicans like Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) have indicated they might vote for the bill if it adds an amendment on religious freedom. The senses. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) haven’t ruled out supporting the final product. Others could also be in play, up to and including Thune and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), if you believe their public comments.

These last two are notable. We shouldn’t expect senators from Kentucky and South Dakota to support the bill. But just as 47 House Republicans saw this vote as the right thing to do or at least politically advantageous, GOP leaders may ultimately decide that killing off a bill codifying something 7 out of 10 Americans support is a bad look. for the party.

They could also see what happened to their party’s political fortunes after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade and decide that, as unlikely as the court could overturn on same-sex marriage as well, it’s best to take that off the very table as a perceived prospect. The trajectory on this issue – support has risen sharply in recent years, at a faster rate of change than nearly any social or political issue in modern political history – is such that there is an argument to put it to the test. bed and not have to relive that debate.

On the other hand, the GOP as a whole is still very divided on same-sex marriage. Some polls have shown a majority of Republicans backing him, but that’s not where the party’s strongest voices are. The party might also worry about being seen as legitimizing a vote it cast as utterly unnecessary, and perhaps encouraging Democrats to line up equally heavy votes on issues like contraception (on which the House also forced a vote, but with very few GOP crossovers).

If Republicans think they can explain those votes by convincing people that same-sex marriage is in no way threatened — rather than necessarily opposing same-sex marriage itself — they might prefer that, given the number of problems. (such as contraception and interracial marriage) that might also get them stuck. Johnson made that argument Thursday, saying the 2015 Supreme Court case, Oberfell v. Hodges, would never be overturned, due to the doctrine known as stare decisis it respects precedent and that Democrats “can’t let sleeping dogs lie.”

But ultimately, whoever the leadership really wants to get out of this vote isn’t the only factor; it’s also what those who have to cast the votes and own them are comfortable with. Most of them have more to fear from GOP primary voters than anything else. And the fact that even those retiring, or who in 2022 will need the support of moderate voters who support same-sex marriage, disagree shows that the calculations could be as difficult as the politics.

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