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Senate Republicans zero in on the abortion decision leak, not its impact

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision overturning <em>Roe v. Wade</em> lawless and declined to answer questions about the impact of the draft ruling.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade lawless and declined to answer questions about the impact of the draft ruling.

The leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, first reported by Politico, in which a majority of justices voted to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion rights rocked Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

But as Democrats argued the news amounted to a reshaping of fundamental individual rights and reframed the midterm elections, Republicans largely focused on the fact the decision was leaked. Most GOP lawmakers sidestepped questions about the impact the possible ruling could have — both on women's health decisions and on the 2022 political environment.

GOP leaders press for probe on leak

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called for an investigation into the "shocking new breach." He said if a crime was committed, the Department of Justice "must pursue it completely." He maintained the leak was "almost certainly in an effort to stir up an inappropriate pressure campaign to sway an outcome."

The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter when asked by NPR on Tuesday.

Chief Justice John Roberts verified the authenticity of the draft opinion and said in a written statement that it was a "betrayal" and it did not represent the court's final position. He directed an investigation and said the work of the court would not be impacted.

When McConnell was pressed about the impact of the decision for women and for the midterms this fall, he dodged those questions, saying, "That's not the story for today."

McConnell pushed back at reporters seeking reaction about the fallout, saying, "You need — it seems to me, excuse the lecture — to concentrate on what the news is today — not a leaked draft, but the fact that the draft was leaked."

Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley called on the Supreme Court to release the opinion now that the draft was made public. He echoed McConnell's argument that it was part of a "pressure campaign." He admitted he didn't have any evidence about who was responsible for the unauthorized disclosure, but Hawley, a former Supreme Court clerk, called the episode "an attack on the integrity and independence of the court."

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman said he personally is anti-abortion rights so he was not discouraged about the possible direction of the eventual ruling, but he said, "The court has unfortunately now lost some respect" after the firestorm.

Senate Republicans caution decision not final

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who chairs the Senate Republicans' campaign arm, noted to reporters that he is "pro-life" but cautioned to wait to hear what "the real decision is" from the court.

Pressed on how the issue could impact the midterms, Scott appeared to downplay it, saying while it is an important issue to many people, "so is inflation, so is crime, so is the border."

Multiple GOP senators leaving the weekly Senate lunch said the discussion about the bombshell news that changed the debate on Capitol Hill centered on what many called an "unprecedented" breach of decorum.

Senate Republicans, one after another, emphasized that the decision isn't final yet.

When pressed about the prospects of additional restrictions that could come if the GOP regains the majority in one or both chambers of Congress, many refrained from going there.

"You're asking me to speculate and I'm not going to speculate on what might happen. I'm going to wait for the final decision of the court," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters.

South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds cautioned, "Let's allow the justices to finish their work."

Some did weigh in on what the decision could mean for the future debate on abortion in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed the Senate would vote on a bill to codify the original Roe v. Wade decision. The House of Representatives approved a measure to do that recently, but senators from both parties acknowledged a GOP filibuster meant that an effort in the Senate would fail and largely be a messaging effort. Top Democrats said it was important to force all senators to go on the record on the issue.

Hawley noted that abortion is an issue that energizes his party and added that for GOP voters, "This is a big reason why they vote for Republican senators."

With the midterm elections roughly six months away, Democrats are highlighting that a GOP majority on Capitol Hill would likely press for new restrictions, including some who want a federal ban on abortions.

Rounds, who said he opposed abortion rights, said depending on what the high court decides there may not be a need for new restrictions. He also said he didn't expect that the Senate would act on a nationwide ban.

Hawley, for his part, said, "I think this is an issue for states and voters in the states in the first instance."

Schumer decried Republicans for "ducking" the substance of the high court's decision and spending so much time discussing the leak.

NPR's Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.