Angry Democrats call on Biden to do more on abortion

Democrats say President Biden needs to take a more forceful approach in leading the charge on abortion rights and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade in order to make it a dominant issue in this fall’s midterm elections.

Anger seemed to rip through the party in the hours after the Supreme Court ruling on Friday, with some Democrats saying the administration needs to do more to galvanize the base. 

“It’s infuriating. What the hell have we been doing?” said one angered Democratic strategist. “Why are we not talking about this every single day? Why hasn’t Biden made this the issue for Democrats? If we don’t step up, we’ve got ourselves to blame.” 

Since a leaked draft of the gut-punching Supreme Court opinion surfaced in early May, Democrats have said they wanted to see more guidance from Biden. But the president has been consumed by domestic issues including record-high inflation and the latest mass shootings in the country, in addition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Democrats say Biden must do more to lead and fire up the base if he hopes to get Democrats to turn out this fall.  

 “A more forceful stance would be welcome from the rank and file,” said William Galston, who chairs the Brookings Institution’s governance studies program.

Galston, unlike some other Democrats, agreed with Biden’s approach to date, saying it wouldn’t have been wise for Biden to speak actively on the issue before the final opinion was issued by the court. 

“It would have been embarrassing to get out in front of an appeal that didn’t happen,” he said. “I don’t fault the president for holding his fire, but now is the time to pull the trigger.”  

Biden delivered an impassioned speech from the White House on Friday hours after the ruling. In it, he previewed a message for Democrats ahead of the midterms, saying the ruling risked women’s health and could foretell erosions of other rights. At one point, he struggled to find the right words to describe the moment. “It’s a – it just – it just stuns me,” he said. 

The president called on voters to elect more pro-abortion rights lawmakers so that Congress could pass a right to abortion through federal law.

“This decision must not be the final word. My administration will use all of its appropriate, lawful powers, but Congress must act,” Biden said in prepared remarks.  “And with your vote, you can act. You can have the final word. This is not over.”

Biden acknowledged that he is severely limited in his executive authority to protect access to abortion but pledged to what he could, including by protecting access to abortion pills and contraception. 

“My administration will defend that bedrock right,” Biden said. “I will do everything in my power to fight that deeply un-American attack”

Before leaving the Cross Hall, Biden pledged he’d have “more to say on this in the weeks to come.” 

Biden on Friday was preparing to travel to Europe for Group of Seven (G-7) and NATO meetings that are expected to focus chiefly on the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. 

The White House has been quietly holding meetings with abortion advocates, state lawmakers and other stakeholders over the past several weeks to better understand the abortion-related laws in various states.

Friday’s speech represented his first formal remarks on abortion rights. Vice President Harris has played a more public-facing role for the administration on abortion, gathering a group of Democratic state attorneys general on abortion rights as recently as Thursday. 

“What’s challenging for the president is that all the other domestic challenges have prevented him from having the political capital to galvanize the base in a moment like this,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

Some Democrats maintain Biden could have done more in the lead up to this moment, including by making Harris the point person pounding the drum on the issue.

“How great would that have been?” a second Democratic strategist said. “Why aren’t we deploying someone who understands and could speak to this moment from the heart?” 

Harris spoke about the ruling Friday from Illinois, an appearance that was supposed to focus on the administration’s maternal healthcare agenda.  

“The great aspiration of our nation has been to expand freedom. But the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable. It is not something that just happens, not unless we defend our most fundamental principles, not unless we elect leaders who stand up for those principles,” Harris told her audience.

Polls have shown steady support for abortion rights in recent years. A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month found that 61 percent of American adults believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 37 percent say that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. 

Democrats see abortion as a galvanizing issue, particularly among younger voters and independent women. 

Roshni Nedungadi, chief research officer at HIT Strategies, a research firm that specializes in polling of young Americans and people of color, said that a recent survey showed that 75 percent of young voters 18-34 years old say protecting abortion access is an important issue for them. 

But Nedungadi said that young voters she has interviewed in focus groups don’t believe Democrats are doing enough to fight back on issues like abortion. 

“They feel that they need to see Democrats and the White House fighting for them,” she said. 

Nedungadi complimented Biden’s speech following the ruling but said the president would be best served by talking about abortion more frequently and deputizing more officials to speak about it with the public. 

“I really think as many voices as they can have, saying the same thing over and over again,” she said.

Tags abortion Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Roe v. Wade Supreme Court
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