LAS VEGAS — April Becker doesn’t want to talk about abortion.
As Democrats seek to make the November elections a referendum on Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights, the GOP nominee challenging Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in a competitive House district in Nevada is pursuing a highly unusual strategy: arguing that Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate abortion.
Becker’s campaign website describes her as “pro-life, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.” But she told NBC News that she would “absolutely not” vote for a federal abortion ban because she believes “that would be unconstitutional.”
In an interview Saturday at the Spanish Trail Private Country Club near the strip, Becker said she interprets the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade to mean that it must be “left to the states to regulate.” She said she’s not interested in more modest nationwide restrictions like a ban after 15 or 20 weeks either, arguing that “if a federal law were passed either way, it would be unconstitutional.”
Becker’s opinion is exceedingly rare and has drawn condemnation from both sides of the abortion debate, an indication of the tightrope she is walking. Legal experts say the landmark Dobbs decision hands the question back to legislators in the states and Congress. Some like Nevada’s Senate GOP nominee Adam Laxalt have said they prefer the issue to be dealt with at a state level without foreclosing on the legality of federal restrictions. On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a 15-week national ban, though it was panned by Republican strategists who said it elevates an issue that benefits Democrats in the 2022 election.
Asked about Becker’s argument that Congress doesn’t have the authority to regulate abortion, Lee chuckled.
“Maybe she should go back to law school,” the Democratic congresswoman said in an interview. “I’ve never heard that. I don’t know if she’s in a different reality.”
Becker’s view also drew pushback from anti-abortion rights activists pushing for federal limits on terminating a pregnancy. After decades of trench warfare that culminated in the landmark decision to end Roe v. Wade, they say they expect Republicans to deliver.
“We are firm believers that there is a federal government role here and are advocating that among Republican lawmakers and candidates,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokesperson for SBA Pro-Life America. “We are expecting for anyone who calls themselves pro-life to advocate at the federal level for protections for the unborn.”
Carroll said her group wants a GOP-led Congress to be “as ambitious as possible in protecting lives of unborn children,” citing the 14th Amendment and commerce clause as a basis for federal restrictions.
As the fallout of the abortion ruling makes Democrats more optimistic about keeping the House majority, three Democratic-held districts centered around the bright lights and glamorous casinos of the world-famous Las Vegas strip could prove decisive. All are rated “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Lee’s race is seen by analysts and national operatives in both parties as the most competitive, but Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus are also running for re-election. And in Nevada’s Senate race, which is one of the most hotly contested in the country, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is also highlighting abortion.
“I don’t think politicians in Washington, D.C., should be able to mandate government pregnancy. I’m worried about what a Republican-controlled Congress would do around a federal ban, which my opponent supports,” Horsford said in an interview at an event in North Las Vegas. “We’re a little libertarian here in Nevada. We don’t like government telling us what to do with our bodies.”
His Republican rival, Sam Peters, has taken a more common approach in his party, championing a series of federal restrictions on legal abortion, including a 20-week ban. “As a Congressman, I will fight to protect life, not devalue it,” he says on his website.
National Democrats are hammering Becker on TV as “staunchly anti-choice,” pointing to endorsements she has received from anti-abortion groups like the National Right to Life Committee and accusing her of aligning with their position on outlawing abortion.
“They’re lying,” a frustrated Becker said. “The ads that are being run against me are lies.”
When asked about Becker’s opposition to a national abortion ban, Lee, a two-term congresswoman first elected in 2018, responded by asking why her opponent is “willing to accept the endorsements of extreme groups that want to ban abortion nationwide.”
Lee added that the Supreme Court’s ruling has made the political climate feel “significantly different than it did three months ago.”
“People are energized because there’s been an attack on women’s rights and women’s rights to choose across this country since the fall of Roe v Wade,” she said.
Recent contests suggest Democrats are stirred up to turn out in the 2022 midterm elections and punish the GOP for assembling the court majority that ended Roe v. Wade.
Beyond abortion, Becker is playing down her party identity and striking a genial tone about finding common ground — an unusual approach for Republicans, even in many swing districts. Becker said she wants to “focus more on what we have in common and what we agree on,” without elaborating on areas of policy compromise.
“I wish people wouldn’t just immediately generalize a person based on what party that they’re affiliated with,” she said. “I always say, we’re not the Crips and the Bloods — red and blue. It’s not like that. We all, I think, want the same things. We just have different plans on how to get to that goal.”