WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s elimination of Roe v. Wadehas sparked tension inside the Democratic Party about how to channel the backlash in response to the unpopular ruling, with some liberals frustrated by what they perceive to be an overly cautious approach by President Joe Biden.
The division also points to a larger political disagreement among Democrats about how to mobilize voters in the 2022 midterm elections. While Biden and some party leaders prefer to tread carefully to avoid overreaching, other Democrats and advocates want the party to be more aggressive and test the boundaries of executive action to demonstrate to voters that they’re fighting.
“I’m very disturbed — although it is completely understandable — as I’m talking to young women in particular in my district, who are in a place of detached acceptance and resignation,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., told NBC News. “It is really important that they see us fight, that they see us exhausting every tool available to us — in order to restore their faith in their leaders and these institutions.”
Democrats scramble to solidify abortion messaging and action plan ahead of midterms
“There is a tremendous sense of — and I share it — betrayal, anger, fear,” she said. “The one emotion I won’t allow myself to have is to be paralyzed.”
Behind the scenes there is tension among Democrats, as reflected by the lingering differences despite having nearly two months since the leaked draft to unify behind a response to the 6 to 3 ruling.
“We’ve made our feelings known very clearly. Now it’s time for action,” said Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., who highlighted abortion rights in her successful 2020 primary against an anti-abortion Democrat. “I’m encouraging President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris to really put the full weight of the executive branch into this matter and get it moving.”
Newman said it may not be enough to simply ask Americans to vote. “I’m out running around and I see a lot of younger voters that are saying, Look, we did what you asked us to. So my message back is: You are right,” she said, adding that voters already elected a Democratic government and now “need to see an action plan.”
Newman called for creating a carveout to the “ridiculous” Senate filibuster to enshrine legal abortion, adding seats to the Supreme Court to rebalance its rightward tilt and the use of executive action to make abortion available on federal lands in states where it’s outlawed.
Pressley added that Biden should “declare a public health emergency” after the ruling as a way to surge resources to expand “access to medication abortion” and over-the-counter birth control.
‘Not something that he wants to do’
But the White House is not supporting any of those ideas.
A White House official rejected calls to make abortion available on federal lands, calling the idea “well-intentioned” but saying it “could put women and providers at risk.” Vice President Harris told CNN on Monday of the idea: “It’s not, right now, what we are discussing.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden “does not agree with” Democrats who want to expand the Supreme Court. “That is not something that he wants to do,” she said.
Biden has not called for filibuster changes to pass abortion rights legislation, although that decision would be up to the Senate and require unanimous Democratic support. All 50 Senate Democrats have called for codifying legal abortion in some form but two of them, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., support the filibuster.
In a letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are exploring new legislation to protect women’s intimate and personal data, to make clear that Americans have a “right to travel freely and voluntarily” and to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act again.
She asked voters to send more Democrats to Congress “so that we can eliminate the filibuster so that we can restore women’s fundamental rights — and freedom for every American.”