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Biden vows that first bill of next Congress will legalize abortion if Democrats pick up seats

Biden speaks on abortion rights
Biden vows that first bill of next Congress will legalize abortion if Democrats pick up seats 12:49

President Biden said Tuesday that if the American people elect more Democratic senators and keep the House in November, the first bill he will send to Congress will codify Roe v. Wade and legalize abortion access across the country.

"If we do that, here's the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade," Mr. Biden said during a Democratic National Committee speech at Howard Theatre in heavily Democratic Washington, D.C. "And when Congress passes it, I'll sign it in January, 50 years after Roe was first decided the law of the land."

But obtaining enough Democratic support in Congress is a high hurdle. The president already has majorities in both chambers of the Capitol but lacks the 60 votes needed in the Senate to get the legislation passed. On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said he's short a "handful" of Democratic votes in the Senate. And it's likely to become even more difficult after the midterm elections — there are no major pollsters who currently project Democrats will maintain control of the House. 

One possibility Democrats explored was lowering the 60-vote threshold to pass an abortion access bill by eliminating the filibuster, a legislative move that would require just 51 votes — but that's two more votes than they currently have, since two Democrats oppose that approach. 

The president, too, has said Democrats need two more seats in the Senate to codify Roe, which seems to account for the "no" votes that would be cast by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

"If you give me two more senators in the United States Senate, I promise you, I promise you, we're going to codify Roe and once again make Roe the law of the land," Mr. Biden said last month at the National Education Association, in Washington, D.C.

While Democrats have chipped away at Republicans' lead in the battle for House control, helped along by motivated abortion-rights voters, among other factors, Democrats have not been able to grow the number of people prioritizing the abortion issue. 

The president and other Democrats are focusing on abortion access as a key issue in the 2020 midterms, after the Supreme Court struck down Roe in June. The Biden administration has tried to protect access to abortion as much as it can unilaterally, but the president has acknowledged there is only so much he can do without a supportive Congress. 

— Ed O'Keefe, Gaby Ake and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this report

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