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Washington Roundup: GOP recalculates on abortion; Biden axes student debt; ‘Disagree Better’ begins

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., speaks during the annual March for Life rally in Washington Jan. 18, 2019. (OSV News photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — After former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, issued a statement April 8 arguing abortion should be left to individual states to legislate — and declining to back federal restrictions sought by pro-life activists blaming them for GOP electoral defeats — several Republican elected officials and candidates backed his position, despite calling for similar restrictions in the past.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden issued a new proposal aimed at some student debt relief, and two governors from different parties joined together to promote efforts to foster civil dialogue.

Lawmakers and candidates react to Trump abortion announcement

Republican lawmakers and candidates for office largely backed Trump’s position, with some exceptions, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “I respectfully disagree with President Trump’s statement that abortion is a states’ rights issue.” Trump subsequently lashed out at Graham in several posts on his social media platform Truth Social, saying in one, “I blame myself for Lindsey Graham, because the only reason he won in the Great State of South Carolina is because I Endorsed him!”

Other lawmakers and candidates in the party accepted Trump’s argument despite previous support for such federal restrictions.

“Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion. Period,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Axios. “That’s a lie you’re hearing from the Democrats to scare voters.”

Daines, however, was one of two original co-sponsors on a federal 15-week abortion ban proposed after the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned prior precedent holding abortion to be a constitutional right.

The NRSC previously encouraged Republican candidates to reject federal abortion restrictions and emphasize their support for exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake — who described abortion as “execution” during her failed 2022 gubernatorial run — wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “I agree with President Trump: I do NOT support a federal abortion ban, policy should be up to individual states.” Lake, likewise, said she opposed an April 9 ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court that found a Civil War-era abortion ban enforceable.

Trump on April 10 replied affirmatively when asked by a reporter if Arizona’s 1864 law went too far, and that he expected it to be addressed “very quickly.”

“And that will be straightened out,” Trump said. “And as you know, it’s all about states’ rights. That will be straightened out.”

Alexandra DeSanctis, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told OSV News that Trump’s statement “reveals that he sees the end of Roe v. Wade as, for his purposes, the end of the national pro-life movement; and he believes that his work on behalf of that movement is finished.”

“He seems to think that working to protect unborn children will come at a political cost, and he’s not interested in paying that price,” she said.

Meanwhile, a new Biden campaign ad features Amanda Zurawski, a Texas woman who sued the state after she went into early labor in the second trimester and almost died from pregnancy complications in August 2022, claiming doctors delayed intervening medically over that state’s abortion restrictions.

“Donald Trump did this,” the ad states.

Biden proposes new student debt plan

Biden announced a plan to eliminate some student debt for more than 30 million Americans who are among certain types of borrowers, including those who have seen their debt grow because of unpaid interest, those who now owe more than they originally borrowed due to interest, or those who have been repaying loans for more than 20 years.

“Too many Americans, especially young people, are saddled with unsustainable debts in exchange for a college degree,” Biden said at an April 8 campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin.

In February, Biden canceled an additional $1.2 billion in student loan debt, bringing the total amount to $138 billion for 3.9 million borrowers, according to the White House. Biden previously sought to cancel up to $400 billion in debt for about 43 million borrowers, but that plan was struck down by the Supreme Court, which found that Biden overstepped its authority.

This time, the Biden administration is seeking to offer limited relief to isolated categories of borrowers under the Higher Education Act, the federal law that regulates student loan and grant programs, which the administration indicated it sees as within its authority.

The Catholic Church has typically framed the issue of debt within its social teaching on the dignity of the human person. While addressing the issue of debt incurred by poorer countries, St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus” taught that debt repayment in principle is just, but it cannot be “paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices.”

“In such cases it is necessary to find — as in fact is partly happening — ways to lighten, defer or even cancel the debt, compatible with the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress,” the pontiff said.

Bipartisan duo touts ‘Disagree Better’ initiative

Govs. Spencer Cox, R-Utah, and Wes Moore, D-Md., cut an ad together for the National Governors Association’s ‘Disagree Better’ initiative, arguing that heightened polarization is akin to tearing the fabric of the nation apart.

“We disagree passionately on lots of issues,” Cox said in the ad, as Moore responded, “But we’re friends and we respect each other.”

“Politics is important, but it shouldn’t define us or destroy our relationships,” Cox said as the pair suggested they have more in common in their lives than they have differences as “proud Americans.”

Cox, who founded the initiative as chair of the NGA, has described the project as an effort to show that Americans can work through differences to find solutions to challenging problems facing the nation. The initiative seeks to combat polarization and foster solutions, and also seeks to have governors act as role models for those efforts.

Some Catholic groups, including Catholic Charities USA, have also sought to combat rising polarization, including through the Team Up Project, in which Catholic Charities has partnered with Habitat for Humanity International, Interfaith America and YMCA of the USA.

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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