Culture

Exclusive: Daines Announces First Pro-Life Caucus in the U.S. Senate

Senator Steve Daines (R, Mont.) speaks to a reporter on his way to the Senate floor in Washington, D.C., December 1, 2017. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)
Republican senator tells National Review the caucus will work to pass the 20-week abortion ban this term.

Senator Steve Daines (R., Mont.) will announce at the March for Life rally this morning that he is forming the first ever Pro-Life Caucus in the Senate.

The House of Representatives has had a pro-life caucus since 1981, and it is currently co-chaired by Representatives Chris Smith (R., N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.).

“We’re finally going have in the Senate what the House has had for many years, so that the House and the Senate can work together on having a more strategic approach in how we’re going to move pro-life policies to the president’s desk,” Daines told National Review in an exclusive phone interview.

Daines said he isn’t sure why the Senate hasn’t had a pro-life caucus until this point. “I saw that we did not have one and I saw we needed it,” he said. In the Senate, the Values Action Team has traditionally handled legislative efforts related to social issues.

“This will allow us to bring the pro-life groups that work off the Hill, as well as pro-life senators and other staff on the Hill, to unify us so we’re all pulling in the same direction to advance the pro-life cause,” Daines added.

The Montana senator’s office is not yet sure which members will be joining the caucus but said there has already been interest from pro-life senators.

Although the Republican party has a slim majority in the Senate, it lacks the 60 votes necessary to override the Democratic legislative filibuster and pass standalone pro-life bills. Daines said the GOP majority will be focusing on confirming originalist judges to the district and circuit courts, but he also believes the pro-life caucus will allow the GOP to accomplish some key objectives this term and going forward.

“We’ll keep the fight up on important legislation like the Pain Capable Protection Act and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” Daines said. “We’ll be looking for ways we can find some common agreement, for example on late-term abortion. That should be stopped. There’s no reason the Pain Capable bill isn’t getting 60 votes. Public opinion is on our side there.”

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which scientific research suggests that unborn children can begin to experience pain. According to Marist polling out earlier this week, nearly 60 percent of Americans support banning abortion after 20 weeks, including 55 percent of respondents who identified as pro-choice and half of Democrats.

The Senate held a vote on the Pain Capable bill last January, and it failed 51 to 46. Two of the Democratic senators who voted against the bill, Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) subsequently lost their re-election battles last November, likely due in part to pro-life dissatisfaction with their votes on abortion legislation. In North Dakota in particular, Republican Kevin Cramer — who unseated Heitkamp in the midterms — told National Review that Heitkamp’s vote against the 20-week abortion ban was a key reason why he changed his mind and decided to challenge her.

“Unfortunately, the Democratic party has been hijacked by the far-left portion of their party on this issue,” Daines said. “One of our highest priorities is to ensure we do not allow the liberal, pro-abortion House leadership to take away any of the pro-life provisions we have fought so hard for over the years, like the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City policy.”

Joined by most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, Daines sent a letter to President Trump earlier this week urging him not to sign any bills that would strip any of those pro-life protections currently in place. The president is expected to respond to the letter during his video address at this morning’s March for Life rally.

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