Biden taps Democrats’ abortion fury with midterm wipeout looming

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A crowd protested outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday after a leak of a draft opinion suggests Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

Kent Nishimura |Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House officials are seizing the political opportunity in Democrats’ doomsday scenario, the end of nationwide abortion rights, to try to salvage a midterm election thought to be all but lost for President Joe Biden’s party.

An expected Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision next month will give Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris the chance to convince abortion rights supporters that voting is the best way to channel their frustration, one Biden adviser said.

It’s a message the White House believes will resonate with suburban women, minorities and young voters, whose support could be key to staving off a loss of Democrats’ House and Senate majorities, the adviser said. The person asked not to be identified discussing internal strategy.

Harris, the highest-ranking woman to ever hold federal elected office, demonstrated in a fiery, nine-minute speech last week how Democrats will sharpen their attacks on Republicans in the months ahead.

In her remarks to EMILY’s List, a group that advocates for the election of women candidates who support abortion rights, she warned of a “direct assault on freedom” and Americans’ fundamental rights by Republicans, positioning herself as Democrats’ standard-bearer on the issue.

“How dare they?” she said of Republicans who support overturning Roe. “How dare they tell a woman what she can do and cannot do with her own body?”

Top Biden advisers say that since the leak of the court’s draft Roe decision, they have seen a surge in engagement, anger and enthusiasm from their base voters. Polls have previously shown Republicans more eager to vote in November, following relentless attacks on Biden and his party over inflation, immigration, crime and the pandemic.

But with fresh surveys showing broad support among women and young people for abortion rights, the draft ruling could “be a jolt out of complacency and malaise” for key segments of the electorate, said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, whose current clients include vulnerable Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly.

Democrats raised $12 million in the day after news broke about the draft opinion, according to ActBlue, which processes online donations for Democratic-aligned candidates and groups.

So far, Harris has appeared more comfortable attacking Republicans for their abortion positions than Biden himself.

Asked about Democrats’ next steps on the matter following a speech on the economy, Biden hesitated, joking “no one asked about deficits, huh?” before reiterating that the ruling “is about a lot more than abortion.”

Biden, a devout Catholic, has in the past been uncomfortable with his party’s more progressive stances on abortion. Until last week, he had not used the word “abortion” publicly as president.

Even as Biden condemned the draft opinion, he has not called to end the Senate’s legislative filibuster so that Democrats could pass a law replacing Roe and guaranteeing abortion rights, as he has for voting rights legislation.

Pressed about Biden’s reticence to use the word “abortion,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week that when Biden talks about a woman’s “right to choose,” he is talking about abortion, and “I think most people know that.”

The White House also plans to stage events with advocates, health care providers and state officials to highlight the issue, the Biden adviser said, cautioning the plans are not final.

“We are in conversations with a wide range of people, including women’s groups, including pro-choice activists, including folks inside of D.C., outside of D.C., including business leaders, philanthropy, members of Congress, state legislatures, governors, advocacy groups, across the board,” Psaki told reporters traveling with the president Friday.

Officials also are exploring the possibility of providing aid for women to travel between states to obtain abortions after Roe is overturned, as more than a dozen Republican-led states are expected to immediately outlaw the procedure. But any such measures are unlikely to be announced before a court decision is official.

Harris spokeswoman Kirsten Allen on Friday touted a new 24-hour maternal health hotline at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Democrats’ slim chances of holding on to their congressional majorities rest on a seismic shift in the political landscape, with the midterms shaping up as a referendum on Biden, particularly his handling of inflation.

But the president has sought to set up a choice for voters between his party and Republicans he has painted as extreme. The leaked abortion opinion has given Biden his most powerful example yet, his allies say.

The stark language Justice Samuel Alito used in the leaked draft surprised some Biden aides and outside supporters, who expected a narrower decision.

One Biden adviser said the language used in the opinion — which called Roe “egregiously wrong and deeply damaging” — brought home for voters the reality that millions of women may soon lose a right they believed sacrosanct.

“Democrats used to have to walk a fine line on this issue because the American public’s views are more nuanced,” said Lanae Erickson, a senior vice president at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “But this attack has taken all of the nuance out of that conversation and made it super, super clear which side folks should be on.”

The argument may especially resonate in battleground states with competitive Senate and gubernatorial races where abortion could soon be curtailed or outlawed.

Arizona recently passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks, while Michigan and Wisconsin have decades-old bans that were halted by Roe but could be reinstated. Georgia’s law preventing abortion after six weeks, currently on hold in federal court, could take effect.

College-educated suburban women, who have been drifting toward Republicans, could be particularly swayed by the potentially broad reach of a Supreme Court ruling, said Celinda Lake, who polls for the Democratic National Committee and advised Biden’s presidential campaign.

Lake’s polling shows two-thirds of women who identify as political independents support abortion rights in all or most cases.

“The keys to Democratic victory in the fall are winning women by more than you lose men, and having a base as energized as the Republican base. In both of those cases we were falling short, and I think a decision this dramatic could accomplish both of those goals,” Lake said.

Yet there is some debate among Biden’s supporters about the potency of the issue. Aides still view the economy as the top concern for voters and don’t see abortion rights supplanting it.

And Republicans contend there’s a risk for Democrats: Looking extreme if they call for unrestricted abortion rights and out of touch if they place too much emphasis on the issue.

“Voters are going to end up back to where they started,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative group Heritage Action for America, “which is caring about inflation, immigration, crime, parental rights, et cetera.”

A crowd protested outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday after a leak of a draft opinion suggests Roe v. Wade will be overturned.