After trying for weeks to hammer out a compromise to codify gay and interracial marriage, Senate negotiators announced Thursday they will delay a vote on their legislation until after the November election while expressing confidence it will eventually pass.
"Through bipartisan collaboration, we've crafted commonsense language that respects religious liberty and Americans' diverse beliefs, while upholding our view that marriage embodies the highest ideals of love, devotion, and family. We've asked Leader Schumer for additional time and we appreciate he has agreed. We are confident that when our legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote, we will have the bipartisan support to pass the bill," the group said in a statement.
"It takes a lot of the political sting out of it to say this is not about the midterm election," said GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio whose own son came out as gay several years ago.
"This is about getting a result that helps a million families across America who are concerned about what might happen," Portman added.
When asked if she was disappointed in the delay, lead GOP sponsor Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told ABC, "No. I think we're in very good shape, very good shape, and I think this bill is going to pass."
"I think we managed to thread the needle on the religious liberty concerns," added Collins, referencing a primary concern of would-be GOP supporters.
Supporters had hoped to kick off consideration of their bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, as early as Thursday, but the GOP concerns -- including a last-minute issue with potentially jeopardizing the tax exempt status of churches and non-profit schools with policies perceived as anti-gay -- mounted as negotiators tried to find the requisite 10 GOP Republican votes to get by a filibuster by others in their conference.
"We have just put together language that is finalized. That has tremendous, I think, 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, and we think that it's fair for the members who are interested, who have worked with us, to give them an opportunity to do that," said Sen Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who helped rally GOP support.
"And, you know, there have been some that said the timing of the vote was political. This is clearly, I think, a situation where we want to make our members feel comfortable with it. And I'm confident that we'll ultimately pass it," said Tillis.
"I think that's a wise decision," GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters of the pushed-back vote, adding, "It will get more votes."
When asked why it was wise, Blunt, a respected, longtime member of the "whip" teams in both chambers of Congress who corral votes and is retiring at year's end, said, "I think if you do it after the election, it's clearly not something that you're doing just for political purpose. And I think people will think about it more thoughtfully because of that, and a handful of them likely to decide to be somewhere after the election that they wouldn't have been with a vote that was purely - at least likely - a political ploy."
Sen Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a devout Mormon who has worked with negotiators on religious liberty concerns said those had been addressed, but he praised the delay, regardless.
"It's, in my opinion, an indication they want to see something become law, not just a message, which is good news," said Romney.
Negotiators worked throughout Thursday with the primary Democratic sponsors, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, buttonholing Republicans as they passed in the chamber earlier for an unrelated vote, showing them bill text.
Sinema joking that her silver-spiked tennis shoes were for getting members going and coming in the chamber.
Portman could be seen going through the group's latest bill changes line by line with Blunt.
Not everyone was happy with the delay, though.
"If there are Republicans who don't want to vote on that before the election, I assume it is because they are in the wrong side of history," said a visibly irritated Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. "Equal marriage has been a part of who we are as a nation. We've lived with it for years now. And protecting it by statute is something every single senator and every single member of Congress should be willing to vote for. And if they're not, they need to go on the record and say so."
The Respect for Marriage Act passed the House in mid-July with a surprising 47 Republicans voting for it.
That measure is expected to be amended in the Senate, forcing it back to the House for reconsideration. That could prove awkward in a lame duck session if Republicans retake that chamber in the midterms. Speaker Pelosi and her team would be shepherding that bill back through before the GOP takes control in January.