A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine could be at the center of Democratic discussions over ending the filibuster for abortion rights, but maybe not until the November election.
Despite their nominal control of Congress, Democrats have few viable options to shield abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month. President Joe Biden responded by saying that the Senate should end the 60-vote filibuster to enshrine protections in federal law.
He later conceded that is not going to happen as Congress is currently configured, particularly because there are two Democratic holdouts — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who voted against a Democratic bid to do it for voting-rights legislation in January.
But the November elections now loom and ending the filibuster is getting more popular on the Democratic side, with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a longtime defender of the procedural move, saying Thursday that she would scrap it for abortion rights.
That could make King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, an interesting case by the end of the year. While he signed onto a 2017 letter led by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, urging Republican leaders to preserve the filibuster for legislation, he was with Democrats in January on the voting-rights push.
“If I have to choose between a Senate rule as it works now … and democracy itself, I’m going to take democracy every single time,” he said in a floor speech at that time,” he said in a floor speech at the time.
While that history indicates a willingness to go along on the filibuster push, King has not yet made the same pronouncement on abortion rights, something noted by the liberal Talking Points Memo on Friday. His office has not directly answered questions on that topic during the recent Senate recess.
In recent weeks, he has nodded to an effort from Collins and others pursuing compromise legislation to enshrine Roe’s protections in federal law, but that push does not look likely to win 60 votes. The Republican senator said “eviscerating the filibuster is exactly the wrong approach” after Biden’s initial call. Add Manchin and Sinema to that and the issue now looks like one to be resolved in the 2022 election.
The environment may be even worse at that point for Democrats. Republicans are heavily favored to win the House, according to FiveThirtyEight’s latest rankings. But they are only narrowly favored in the Senate, with Democrats retaining a 1-in-5 chance of expanding their majority to 52 seats or more because of how the map works this time around.
It makes for only outside chances that Democrats will have the power to push such a change through the Senate, much less get a bill through the House. But even if they cannot, the conversation around what they think they should do will persist. King could be a central figure whichever way this plays out.