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Will Republicans see blowback from abortion ruling, expulsion of Tennessee lawmakers?


U.S. politics has been roiled by a couple of recent events. In Tennessee, two Democratic lawmakers were expelled for protesting on behalf of gun reforms in the state Capitol. One of those lawmakers has already been sent back to the statehouse by local officials. And a federal judge in Texas has caused uncertainty by issuing a major ruling against approval of a drug that's long been used in medication abortions.

NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro says there could be potential consequences for Republicans here. He joins us now. Hey, Domenico.


LIMBONG: All right. So let's start with the latter of those two events, which would limit abortion access. What could this mean politically?

MONTANARO: Well, this has really made a lot of Republicans who are interested in winning in swing states and districts uncomfortable. You know, there's a lot of gray, lots of nuance in how people feel about how far abortion restrictions should go. And since the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe last year, the pro-abortion right side clearly has the political momentum. They've won special elections and ballot initiatives. It was certainly a contributing factor to Democrats' over-performance in the 2022 midterm elections. And we saw it again just last week with a Wisconsin Supreme Court election where a liberal judge easily won in a key presidential state. You know, few Republicans on Capitol Hill have said publicly that they're in favor of this Texas ruling. And on the campaign trail, it's only been former Vice President Mike Pence who's spoken up in favor of it.

LIMBONG: This, like, near silence coming from Republicans, does it indicate that many know they have a serious problem on abortion?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, just today, a new Pew Research Center poll shows a majority are in favor of keeping medication abortion legal. Supporters outnumber those who want to make it illegal by more than 2 to 1. We're seeing some Republicans essentially saying, what are we doing here? It's bad policy and bad politics. South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace, for example, says the FDA should ignore the Texas judge's ruling. Here she is on CNN.


NANCY MACE: This is an issue that Republicans have been largely on the wrong side of. We have, over the last nine months, not shown compassion towards women. And this is one of those issues that I've tried to lead on as someone who's pro-life and just have some common sense.

MONTANARO: What's amazing here is she basically has the same position as New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who's been calling for ignoring this ruling. And it's not often you see someone like Mace agree with AOC. It's really showing that the bind that the GOP is in politically is just really tough for them to get out of. Republicans in Washington can't control if very conservative states enact new hardline abortion restrictions, even if those policies are political losers nationally.

LIMBONG: All right, onto Tennessee now. The expulsion of two Democrats in the GOP-led state, how does that all fit into this?

MONTANARO: Well, it's just another example of what many are seeing as Republican overreach. In fact, one of those lawmakers, Justin Jones, has already been reinstated. Here he was after the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to send him back to the legislature.


JUSTIN JONES: It just shows that our movement is bigger than one person, that it's thousands of people from across the nation and literally across the world who showed up today to stand in solidarity with the crime that happened here in Tennessee. And people are resisting. People are showing up. People are calling us to act. And the decision to expel us yesterday was not the final decision.

MONTANARO: I mean, think about this - before these two Black lawmakers were expelled, it had only happened twice before since the 1800s, and it was for far more serious things - sexual misconduct and soliciting a bribe. Here, these lawmakers violated rules of decorum by protesting gun violence and speaking out when they weren't supposed to. The other lawmaker, Justin Pearson from Memphis, could also be reinstated as soon as tomorrow. Tennessee Republicans here really - we need to point out - inadvertently highlighted problematic narratives for Republicans nationally that don't appeal to the middle about how the party treats people of color and perceived inaction on gun violence. And these issues aren't going away any time soon.

LIMBONG: Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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