Biden moves on abortion haven’t quieted progressive anger
Furiously watching the Supreme Court dismantle what for almost 50 years was a constitutional right, Democratic operatives and activists have been begging the White House to do everything in its power to ensure people still have access to abortion.
They view President Biden’s announcement last week that he supports a carveout to ending the Senate filibuster to codify abortion rights at the federal level was a step in the right direction, but it hardly quieted their anger.
“You’d genuinely think this decision hadn’t even leaked because it seems very clear there has been no real planning from the White House,” said Max Burns, a progressive strategist working on down ballot races ahead of the midterms, referring to the leak earlier this summer of a draft of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade. “I don’t know how you get caught by surprise on a pre-announced decision!”
“Every senior official who speaks about our post-Roe nightmare seems to have a different narrative,” he went on, “which is a sign there is no narrative at all.”
“Sorry,” Burns concluded, “this is a point of immense fury.”
Burns is not alone. The sense of frustration that the Biden administration hasn’t done enough to protect women during this crucial, precedent-unraveling the court overturned the landmark abortion rights decision.
Hours after the decision, Biden gave an impassioned speech about the ruling, in which he lambasted it as a “tragic error.”
“This decision must not be the final word. My administration will use all of its appropriate, lawful powers, but Congress must act,” Biden said.
But the speech didn’t mollify many. And the progressive reaction has been particularly loud.
Lawmakers and activists on the left have urged Biden and his entire White House to present a clear message of urgency to Americans about the significance of the ruling and provide a unified roadmap of practical options to help people maintain access to the full range of reproductive health care.
On Thursday, the president seemed to pivot in a new direction.
During a global news conference, Biden called for the narrowly-controlled Democratic majority in the Senate to amend its longstanding filibuster rule in order to protect Roe’s status. That would allow Democrats to pass a bill without any Republican votes.
“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure the Congress votes to do that,” he said from a NATO conference in Madrid, Spain. “If the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be we provide an exception for this.”
Finally, outspoken liberals declared, a step in the right direction. Some acknowledged that the president and his administration appeared to be getting the message.
“Now we’re talking!” Ocascio-Cortez tweeted after Biden’s statement. “Time for people to see a real, forceful push for it. Use the bully pulpit. We need more.”
The administration also received praise after the Department of Health and Human Services launched a website devoted to helping people find contraceptives and abortion services.
“I think we are starting to see some more concrete steps and we definitely need more of that,” said Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, a senior legal and policy adviser at the global reproductive justice organization Ipas.
“I definitely wouldn’t necessarily say they are flat footed,” she added, referring to the administration.
But the anger isn’t likely to go away. Progressives have warned that the decision could cause Democrats to lose the House and Senate if they don’t mobilize accordingly, and many believe more steps need to be taken in the short-term to speak to voters. In recent days, they’ve raised concerns about everything from privacy on health data-sharing apps to abortion centers closing down in critical states.
Absent an urgent enough national response from the White House, in the eyes of some on the left, progressives have been bringing new attention to polling and advertisements to amplify the issue.
In a poll conducted by MoveOn, obtained exclusively by The Hill, likely voters in four battleground states – Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – overwhelmingly support access to abortion and disapprove of the decision to overturn Roe, a proof point that Democrats are circulating to show how the ruling can work to their advantage at the ballot box.
In Arizona, one of Democrats’ biggest targets in the midterms and one that Biden won in 2020, 60 percent of likely voters surveyed said they think abortion should be allowed legally.
In another sign of the ruling’s potential significance on the campaign trail, a number of liberal pro-choice organizations launched large-scale ad buys in major swing Senate states including Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
That work on the outside is meant to supplement areas where the administration could come up short, some say.
“The president can’t make anyone do anything,” Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said.
“The executive branch plays a role. The legislative branch, and the judicial [branch] plays a role. The judicial [branch] is clear about their role. It’s to disrupt,” he said.
“Now we have to do the clean up at the legislative branch, in particular in the United States Senate.”
Still, some Democrats say the impulse to blame the Senate – from inside the White House on down – has become something of a crutch in the debate. While it’s true that two moderates, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have complicated much of Biden’s agenda by failing to budge on the filibuster, some say Bidenworld needs to be more forceful in its planning and response.
“The White House can rightfully blame Manchin and Sinema (and 50 GOP senators) for the logjam in the Senate,” Burns said, “but that doesn’t go an inch to explaining why the White House doesn’t seem to have any clear narrative or action plan of its own.”
“They keep sending Kamala Harris out to be embarrassed in front of national audiences with messaging the White House then seems to abandon entirely,” he said.
Earlier this week, Harris, who has struggled to gain solid footing during her time as vice president, said “not right now” when asked on CNN if administration officials are contemplating the option of providing access to abortion services on federal lands, a line that put her at odds with progressives like Ocasio-Cortez who called it one of several “baby steps” that could be taken, including in Republican-controlled states.
Others defending the administration, however, described much of the discontent among progressives as “online noise” that doesn’t necessarily ring true for many Democratic voters.
Those voices take solace in knowing that voters indeed chose Biden out of other contenders to lead the country away from Trump, and believe that the president deserves some breathing room during his first term.
“They find themselves lining up or dancing to the tune of the activists,” Seawright said about progressives. “And yes that’s important, but that’s not always most important because governing and campaigning can be two different things.”
To be sure, the anger is not confined to the left-wing.
Even some Republicans have wondered aloud why the opposing party hadn’t already taken steps to codify the ruling over the past five decades.
“Democrats, what were you doing all these years, not codifying Roe?” said Rina Shah, a GOP operative who started Republican Women for Biden during the last election.
While some far-right GOP candidates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill cheered the SCOTUS move, others have expressed private shock that Democrats are finding themselves in this position now.
“I have no respect for these justices because they didn’t have to do this,” she said.