WASHINGTON ― Democrats aren’t all exactly on the same page when it comes to supporting candidates who do not toe the party line on reproductive rights.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee drew the ire of progressives and women’s rights groups over the weekend after its chairman, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), said the group would continue to provide financial support to anti-abortion House candidates in next year’s midterm elections.
“Ignoring women’s fundamental freedoms and equality to win elections is both an ethically and politically bankrupt strategy,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted on Monday.
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood issued a similar statement Monday, telling HuffPost that “supporting reproductive rights, including abortion, is central to expanding economic opportunity to all Americans.”
Outspoken comedian Rosie O’Donnell even urged women to form their own political party.
For Democrats hoping to win back control of Congress, however, the matter is not so simple. While they are likely to gain seats in the House, winning back the majority looks to be more difficult. The party faces an even harder climb in Senate, where Democrats are defending a whopping 25 seats ― 10 of them representing states that President Donald Trump carried last November.
That’s likely why both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said the party should not draw a hard line when it comes to abortion, despite the fact that Democrats’ 2016 platform clearly called for opposition to restrictions on the procedure.
Most Senate Democrats who spoke with HuffPost on Tuesday said welcoming different opinions on the matter could help the party claw its way back into the majority.
“In the last number of years, without that kind of litmus test, our party does much better, and I think it shows that we’ve got a broad and diverse party,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is up for re-election next year in a state that Trump won.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) agreed, stating that Democrats “can’t afford to have a litmus test in a way that really is a purity test.”
“My focus is going to be supporting all of my colleagues and doing everything we can to at least maintain our numbers as it relates to 2018 election,” she added.
But others, like abortion rights advocate Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said they would personally not support anti-choice candidates.
“Well, I won’t,” she said, when asked about the DCCC stance.
“All I know is for myself. The party is pro-choice, there may be some exceptions to it, but by and large, I think that’s the case,” she added. “I ran as a pro-choice Democrat, and I’m still one.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) echoed the sentiment.
“I’m going to support pro-choice candidates in next year’s election and I’m actively recruiting great pro-choice female candidates across the country to run,” she said.
Even senators who disagreed with the DCCC acknowledged the political reality behind the decision.
“That’s a hard one,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said. “It really depends on what the conditions are. I would lean to not [support anti-abortion candidates], but I can see why, you know, we need to be a big tent.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the DCCC counterpart in the Senate, has also indicated it would not exclude anti-choice candidates in next year’s election.
“I would encourage our candidates to be pro-choice candidates, but it’s also important that we have a big tent. I think we actually can do both,” DSCC Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in April.
The question of whether to embrace candidates who do not fully support abortion rights has already exposed divisions within the party. Last spring, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) faced criticism for campaigning on behalf of a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, who said he was personally opposed to abortion. Women’s reproductive rights groups similarly lashed out at Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez for including an abortion rights opponent in what was billed as a national unity tour in the wake of the 2016 election.
Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, mocked Democrats over the debate and the party’s new “Better Deal” slogan, which they unveiled last week.
“They can have all of the ‘unity tours’ and slogan rollouts they want, but the Democrats’ internal divisions are going to cost them even more elections going forward,” Ahrens said in a statement.
This story was updated with an additional quote from Sen. Harris.