WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a soft-spoken liberal Democrat from Wisconsin, learned last month on a plane home from Washington that her hometown colleague Ron Johnson, a far-right Republican, has publicly stated that he does not. Will oppose a bill protecting the right to same-sex marriage.
Seizing a rare moment when she and Mr Johnson – diametrically opposed anyway – might agree on something, Ms Baldwin sent him a text saying she was thrilled.
“Don’t let them add anything nasty,” Mr Johnson responded.
“I said I would not do anything to jeopardize its chances of passing,” Ms Baldwin said in an interview last week from her Senate seat. “But we may disagree on what is ‘hateful’.”
Mr Johnson replied with a thumbs up emoji and wished her a good weekend.
Ms. Baldwin, 60, who in 1999 became the first openly gay woman elected to Congress, has helmed the effort to win over the 10 Republican senators whose backing is necessary to secure passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would provide federal protections for Their rights to same-sex marriage amid growing concerns that same-sex marriage is at risk.
Now, Ms. Baldwin’s composure and reservedness set her apart from her more media-touted and partisan colleagues as a key figure in the weeks leading up to congressional midterm elections as a surprising legislative mover for the Ensuring their rights same-sex married couples will be recognized nationwide.
Five Republicans, including Mr. Johnson, have so far said publicly that they would support the bill, which passed the House last month with an unexpectedly large majority of Republican votes. The others are Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Tom Tillis of North Carolina.
Ms. Baldwin said privately, at least five other Republicans had assured her that they would also support the bill when New York Democratic and Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer delivers on his promise, likely Labor. sometime after the holiday.
“My Republican colleagues are increasingly acquainted with married gay people,” Ms. Baldwin said. “They saw that the sky didn’t fall. Maybe some of them attended these ceremonies. Maybe some of them knew that if it wasn’t for that marriage certificate, their cousin couldn’t have seen her wife in the hospital because she was A legitimate stranger.”
Democrats are urging the legislation to be enacted after a Supreme Court ruling overturned nearly 50 years of abortion rights amid concerns that the precedent for same-sex marriage and the rights to protect such couples could be next in the line. In the unanimous opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in the abortion case, Judge Clarence Thomas suggested the court also “should reconsider” past rulings establishing marriage equality and access to contraception.
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The House moved quickly to pass the same-sex marriage bill as Democrats rushed to document themselves on the issue and Republicans were on the scene ahead of the election. But 47 Republicans voted in favor — less than a quarter of the meeting, but more than expected — and Schumer said he would work to find the necessary votes to pass the filibuster and vote.
Within hours, a bill that many thought would lapse when it reached the Senate became the subject of an intensive legislative push.
Ms. Baldwin is the epitome of the good guys in the Midwest, and her love of sewing and cooking — hobbies she describes as “boring” — is in some ways an unlikely tongue-twister for the endeavor.
Never one to seek attention, she played the historic victory when she won a Senate seat 10 years ago, halfway through her speech before mentioning that she was “very aware” that her election was a milestone for gay rights. (She also made history in 1999 with her election to the House, the first openly gay woman to serve there.)
Ms Baldwin herself is not married, although her domestic partnership has dissolved.
The issue defined her career in public office. Ms. Baldwin began working on marriage and domestic partnership legislation in the 1990s as a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Wisconsin state legislature, when, she said, “all the results were terrible.”
Today, she noted, the situation is very different.Since the Supreme Court affirmed the right to same-sex marriage in 2015, the number of Americans in same-sex marriages has risen to over 1.1 million. Elected officials in both political parties feel a more personal connection to the issue, and many see their families at imminent risk.
“People are really scared if their marriage is going to be dissolved by the courts,” Ms Baldwin said. “Significant marriage-related rights at the state and federal levels may disappear.”
Still, the equal distribution path for a marriage equality bill in the Senate remains narrow, leaving Democrats no chance. Mr. Schumer, wary of pinning his support on private pledges, told Ms. Baldwin he wanted a buffer and asked her to look for more Republicans to add to her “yes” column to easily explain any final A moment of cold feet. (However, Mr. Schumer has promised to bring the bill to a vote regardless of the final outcome.)
For example, Democrats and Republicans who support the measure worry whether Mr Johnson, who said he sees “no reason to oppose” the legislation, could be seen as a credible “yes” in any procedural vote to ensure passage. If he simply votes “present,” they still need another Republican to back the legislation to pass it. Johnson’s office declined to clarify his position.
Given the potential hurdles, Ms. Baldwin has been grappling with the issue, making phone calls over the weekend and wherever she encounters Republicans during the day.
Even as the issue has been put on hold as Democrats’ climate and health packages are shelved in the final days before the Senate’s August recess, Ms Baldwin is working with Ms Collins to make it clear it will gain more among Republicans by adding Supported languages. Do not take away any religious liberty or protection of conscience.
Wearing a seafoam green jacket, she quietly discussed in the Senate last week with her colleague, Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, who has said he has not yet decided how to vote on the bill. Mr. Braun listened intently, at one point picking up a pen and beginning to take notes as Ms. Baldwin spoke.
Mr. Young can be heard telling Ms. Baldwin: “Oh, wow, that’s going to be powerful” as she buckles down Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, and ponders whether he can find something with them Discuss relevant Congressional Research Service reports.
Ms. Baldwin has struggled to convince Republicans that the measure is safe. She said she reminded Utah Sen. Mitt Romney that all four of his colleagues in Utah’s all-Republican House delegation voted “yes.”
The flogging operation began almost immediately after the House vote, when Ms Baldwin walked to the floor to introduce the Senate version of the bill and met Mr Portman.
“I had the names of all the Republicans who just voted in the House on my smartphone, and a bunch of Ohio Republicans,” Ms. Baldwin recalled. “I said, ‘Rob, look at this!'”
“I started talking to other people and went from hypothetical to ‘We can really do this,'” she said.
During the conversation, Ms Baldwin stressed that the bill was simple — less than four pages. She told other Republicans that reasons like Mr. Johnson’s — the legislation wasn’t necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt to pass it — were perfectly acceptable reasons for a “yes” vote.
The lobbying effort was as non-confrontational as Ms Baldwin. Just after Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Rejecting the bill to a CNN reporter was a “foolish waste of time,” Ms Baldwin found herself in the elevator alone with him. The elevator ride has been described as a “confrontation” between a gay senator and a guerrilla fighter preparing for re-election in a red state.
But Ms. Baldwin wasn’t for intense encounters. She said she exited the elevator, politely telling Mr. Rubio, “We’ll be visiting this again.” (In fact, the two did visit again on the issue, a spokesman said.)
Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, the second LGBTQ woman to openly sit in the Senate, has also been working closely with Ms. Baldwin to rally Republican support for the bill. Her spokesman said she had spoken to Mr Johnson in the Senate before Ms Baldwin texted him and had been working closely with Mr Tillis and Mr Portman.
Ms Baldwin said she was determined to make sure the Senate didn’t make the mistakes she thinks it made about abortion on marriage equality — that is, wait until it’s too late to try to legislate to guarantee what the courts think are rights It has been recognized that it is protected by the Constitution.
So she takes nothing for granted. Counting her noses, Ms. Baldwin said she had kept the coronavirus in mind and realized that in a 50-50 Senate, even a single case could wipe out the support needed to move a bill to a final vote.
“We need everyone here. If we have two Democrats supporting Covid, I need two other Republicans, and I probably have, but you don’t want to roll the dice,” Ms Baldwin said. “You want to be sure.”
Katie Edmondson Reporting from Washington.