WASHINGTON — The Senate won’t vote on legislation to protect same-sex marriage until after the midterm elections, key senators said Thursday, in an apparent bid to give Republicans political space to support the bill without offending their base.
The leader of the effort, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., has been working this month on an amendment to the bill aimed at attracting more Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. But the necessary 10 GOP votes have remained elusive.
“We’re very confident that the bill will pass but we will need a little more time,” Baldwin told reporters Thursday.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday that the amendment language they were working on would “make it very clear” that the bill wouldn’t “legalize polygamous marriages” or require churches to “perform same sex marriages.”
“I think we’re in very good shape, very good shape. And this bill is going to pass,” Collins said Thursday. “I think we managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns.”
The underlying legislation, which would enshrine federal protections for same-sex marriage, is co-sponsored by Collins and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, whose son is openly gay. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., also has said he supports it.
A version of the legislation cleared the House this summer, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting yes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled this week that he wanted to kickstart the floor process on Thursday, but his office announced a change of course in the afternoon.
Schumer is “extremely disappointed that there aren’t 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to vote yes on marriage equality legislation at this time,” and because his “main objective is to pass this important legislation, he will adhere to the bipartisan group of Senators’ request to delay floor action,” said his spokesperson, Justin Goodman. He is “100 percent committed to holding a vote on the legislation this year,” Goodman added.
Shortly after a bipartisan huddle in Schumer’s office, the group explained why the vote would be delayed.
“We have just put together language that has tremendous respect for the input that we’ve received on religious freedom. But the fact of the matter is, it’s only about 18 hours old — less than that,” Tillis told reporters Thursday, adding that senators should have more time to review the five-page amendment.
“There have been some that said the timing of the vote was political,” Tillis added. “This is clearly a situation where we want to make our members feel comfortable with it, then I’m confident that we’ll ultimately pass it.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a former House GOP whip, has not made up his mind about whether to back the bill but argued the vote tally would be higher after Election Day.
“The unreformed whip in me would say you should have a vote when you’ve got the votes,” Blunt said, “but they’ll get more votes in November and December than they’ll get on Monday.”
Backers of the bill have been assigned to reach out to certain Republicans who are on the fence. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told NBC News that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was tasked with contacting him, and he’s currently reviewing the new language, which he received Wednesday night.
Johnson would not share details of their conversation but said: “I’ve always enjoyed my work with Sen. Sinema when we worked on” homeland security and border issues. I respected her genuine effort to try and fix the problem at the border.”
Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.
Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.
Frank Thorp V is a producer and off-air reporter covering Congress for NBC News, managing coverage of the Senate.