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‘He’s not a dictator’: Anti-abortion groups don’t care as Johnson downplays chances of federal ban

Still, abortion opponents’ hopes for Johnson remain high.

Some influential conservative groups interpreted the remarks as a call to action, while others said they reflected a fundamental political reality in Washington that extends beyond the contentious issue of federal policy. of abortion.

“He’s the one speaking out now, he’s not a dictator and he has to work with a very diverse Republican caucus,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who said he has been in close contact with Johnson before his term. election and since he won the gavel. “But I can assure you that he will work with Congress to continue to advance the sanctity of human life.” I have no questions about this.

Johnson told Fox’s Sean Hannity on Thursday that his “big priorities” include

Israel, Ukraine, the US-Mexico border and the fentanyl addiction crisis.

“So basically you’re saying (abortion) is not going to be addressed and you’re going to focus on the agenda items that you’ve already presented,” Hannity said. Johnson didn’t correct it.

But anti-abortion activists have pointed to Johnson’s uncompromising support for their cause as proof that he will ultimately keep his promises, no matter what he says or doesn’t say in interviews. They also acknowledged that the remainder of 2023 will likely be devoted to debates over government spending, and said they do not expect him to introduce broader anti-abortion legislation until January, as soon as possible.

“Abortion is a federal issue. He knows that as well as anyone,” said Kristi Hamrick, chief policy strategist for Students for Life, who noted that Johnson has an “A+” grade on the group’s legislative scorecard. “So I wouldn’t interpret (the interview) to mean that nothing is coming. I would interpret this to mean that we need to get to work.

Although he co-sponsored a series of anti-abortion bills during his time in Congress – including national bans at six and 15 weeks of pregnancy – Johnson must now manage a fractious caucus that includes Republicans from Biden’s fiercely opposed to and indifferent to federal restrictions on the procedure. taking politically risky votes on bills that would go nowhere in the Senate.

“Will he propose stand-alone pro-life legislation? That’s a big question mark. The Senate, of course, won’t address any of that, but it would help define the differences between the two parties,” said Tom McClusky, director of government affairs for Catholic Vote. “But I always say: You don’t want your friends to be in charge. Because he will eventually have to make decisions that will make some of us unhappy.

A handful of New York Republicans and other vulnerable Republican lawmakers in blue districts are particularly wary of their colleagues’ decision to insert a wide variety of political factors regarding abortion in key spending bills in this Congress, and say they would similarly oppose stand-alone bills imposing restrictions on the procedure.

Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) joined several other Republicans in blocking their party’s agriculture funding bill in the House last month over a provision banning mail delivery abortion pills.

“The congressman recognizes that abortion is a state issue and reaffirms his opposition to legislation that would overturn the will of New York voters and attempt to circumvent the Dobbs decision,” said Will Kiley, a spokesman for LaLota.

Jesse Southerland, federal affairs director for Americans United for Life, is among advocates who insist that such opposition from Republican lawmakers to federal abortion bans can be overcome with “a lot of education.”

“It’s up to the pro-life movement to do that,” he said. “These members of Congress have a thousand other problems to deal with, and many of them simply don’t realize it.”

Southerland and other anti-abortion leaders said Friday they will monitor what Johnson does for their movement in the coming months, noting that standalone votes on anti-abortion bills are just one of their demands . They also hope he will push his caucus to hold more hearings on the issue, write more amicus briefs in support of lawsuits against the Biden administration’s abortion policies and — most immediately – to use upcoming government spending fights to advance abortion restrictions.

“The most immediate thing on everyone’s agenda is spending bills,” said Melanie Israel, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “We want to see this as bold leadership, because when we look at where members are, we see that most want to move things forward with pro-life supporters, not just maintain the status quo. »

But two Republican congressmen, granted anonymity to discuss internal conference matters, cast a chill over the idea of ​​introducing standalone bills in Congress.

“I don’t think the votes are there (for a 15-week federal abortion ban),” one member said. “Especially knowing it’s DOA in the Senate.”


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