At the liberal Netroots Nation conference over the weekend, Democratic leaders demanded a pro-abortion “litmus test” for candidates in their party, contradicting the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who attacked that very idea last month. Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led the charge on abortion.
“We’re pro-choice,” Steyer, the Democratic Party’s single largest donor in recent cycles thanks to his NextGen super PAC, told POLITICO. He pledged that his fundraising group would not support candidates or sitting lawmakers unless they were solidly pro-abortion.
“We do not work for a single candidate who is not pro-choice,” Steyer explained. “I think people like to have litmus tests. We are explicitly pro-choice. We work a lot with Planned Parenthood, we work a lot with NARAL. We are absolutely committed to it.”
Warren, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, also pushed the abortion line, CNN reported. She rallied supporters, declaring: “We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice.”
“We’re going to fight to put more women in positions of power,” Warren said, “from committee rooms to boardrooms to that really nice oval-shaped room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” The crowd greeted this declaration with shouts of “Warren 2020!”
Warren framed her full-throated support for abortion in terms of a new, more progressive, Democratic Party. “We’re not going back to the days when universal health care was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”
Contrary to Warren and Steyer, however, Democrats are not united in full support of unfettered abortion. Many Democrats favor significant restrictions on abortion, even when they identify as “pro-choice.” A full 58 percent of Democrats favor limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, or to cases involving rape or incest or to save the life of the mother, or only to save the mother, or in no cases at all.
More than half of Americans (54 percent) who describe themselves as pro-choice also support restrictions on abortion, along with 77 percent of women, 69 percent of millennials, 79 percent of Latinos, and 79 percent of African-Americans.
“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the DCCC, told The Hill in an interview last month. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”
“To pick up 24 [seats] and get to 218, that is the job,” Luján said. “We’ll need a broad coalition to get that done. We are going to need all of that, we have to be a big family in order to win the House back.” The map on his office wall reportedly highlights dozens of districts held by Republicans that he hopes to flip in November 2018.
When the Democrats last captured a majority in the House of Representatives in 2006, they did so by recruiting — and financially supporting — a significant number of Democrats who did not fully support abortion activism. The Hill listed four such candidates: Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), and Jason Altmire (Pa.).
Perhaps the most fascinating development on this issue came when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) defended endorsing a Democrat who was more moderate on abortion than activist groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America would prefer. Sanders argued that this kind of pragmatism was the way forward for Democrats, “if we’re going to become a 50-state party.”
Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have argued against party litmus tests, saying there is room for people with different opinions on abortion.
Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown said he does not think abortion should be a “litmus test” for Democrats.
Even Howard Dean, a former DNC chairman who recently threatened to cut funding for the DCCC if it supported abortion moderates, supported pro-life Democrats in 2006 in order to win control of Congress. He seems to have forgotten his own winning strategy.