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Democrats Press the White House for a More Assertive Response to Roe’s Fall

President Biden and the Democratic leadership had months to prepare for the fall of Roe v. Wade, and even after a draft ruling leaked in May, they had weeks to put together concrete plans for a once unimaginable outcome. that suddenly seemed inevitable.

But as Republicans last week celebrated the culmination of a methodical 50-year campaign to overturn the right to abortion in America, the president’s and his party’s first response: Vote prompts, solicitations for contributions, micro-websites depicting Republicans as extremists — even many fellow Democrats found painfully inadequate to face a moment of danger.

“It didn’t seem like there was a game plan,” said Nina Smith, a Democratic strategist.

Successive Supreme Court decisions last week on guns and abortion — tying the hands of blue states to regulate firearms and releasing red states to ban abortions — underlined the extent to which the court’s solid 6-3 conservative majority is ready to recreate American life, swinging the policy pendulum to the right on touchstone issues.

Now an increasingly vocal group of Democrats is calling for the party’s leadership, starting with Mr. Biden, to broaden what is seen as politically possible, before liberal priorities are thwarted or reversed by the Supreme Court in the coming years. But those seeking to expand the Supreme Court or impeach judges who once called Roe as a permanent law face an institutional president who has long been averse to radical changes in the judiciary.

So far, the most important part of Mr Biden’s response has been urging voters to rally behind Democrats in the midterm elections in hopes of boosting a Democratic Party base that polls have shown are in a sour mood. is.

Speaking from the White House on Friday, with many of his top female advisers watching from the wings, Mr. Biden made virtually no new proposals for abortion rights. He acknowledged that his administrative powers were limited. And he conveyed the simple and accurate fact that Democrats currently do not have the votes in Congress to act to protect abortion rights nationally.

“Roe is on the list this fall,” he said.

The White House sees Congressional Republicans’ embrace of a possible national abortion ban after 15 weeks as a potential motivator for voters. And they view as politically troublesome for the GOP the possibility, raised by Judge Clarence Thomas, that the court could eventually focus on previous decisions establishing constitutional rights to same-sex marriage and contraception.

“The ultra-MAGA agenda on choice was never about ‘states’ rights,” said Jennifer Klein, the executive director of the White House’s new Gender Policy Council. “This has always been about taking away women’s rights, in every state.”

There are early signs of Democratic grassroots involvement. Protests flooded the streets in cities across the country. And Friday’s ruling unleashed a flood of Democratic donations: $20.5 million that day on ActBlue, the Democratic online donation processing platform. It was the biggest day for contributions to the site since 2020, according to a New York Times analysis, with a total of more than $45 million processed since the decision came out.

But Rebecca Katz, a Democratic aide who works with progressive candidates, demanded more from Mr Biden and other party leaders than just asking for money or votes.

“This is one of those times when those in power have to do more than the people who vote for them,” she said.

Those arguing for the possible impeachment of Supreme Court justices are not just far-left Democrats, but moderates, including Florida Representative Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat who will run for governor in 2022.

“I am a former Florida Attorney General and I know what lying is,” he said in an interview, citing testimony from Judges Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, during their congressional confirmation hearings, about upholding precedents for abortion .

And he said that while there was currently no will to act among Democratic leaders in Congress, he expected that to change. “Frustration requires action,” said Mr. Crist, “otherwise there’s no way out.”

As Joshua Karp, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Mr. Crist, put it, “If we want to inspire people to vote, we have to actually inspire them.”

The split within the Democratic coalition is, in part, generational as younger activists argue that the Republican Party and dynamics in the nation’s capital have fundamentally changed in the decades since Mr. Biden, 79; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82; and Senator Chuck Schumer, 71, the Majority Leader, arrived in Washington. A careless comment on Friday by Representative James Clyburn, 81, the top black legislator in the House, that the ruling was “anticlimax” bounced off in younger and more progressive circles.

It’s not that unruly Democrats don’t accept the stark reality that, with a 50-50 Senate and two Democratic senators committed to preserving the filibuster, there’s little that can legally be done to preserve abortion rights. But they still want to hear a longer-term action plan formulated after the fall midterm elections.

“Leadership has long had to know this was coming and prepare for something more than outrage from a podium and calls to raise money,” said David Atkins, a California Democratic National Committee member who wanted to hear calls. for structural changes in the court or Senate. “There needs to be more fighting.”

An episode that struck Mr. Atkins and others as “tone deaf” aired outside the Capitol on Friday. Ms. Pelosi and other House Democrats gathered on the steps of the Capitol to celebrate the passage of a historic, albeit fragmentary, arms package. They sang “God Bless America” ​​together as Roe protesters raged across the street in front of the Supreme Court.

“That moment it crystallized out perfectly,” said Ms. Smith, the Democratic strategist. “The Titanic is sinking and the band is still playing.”

About the same time her colleagues were singing on the steps of the Capitol, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive, was across the street and joined in chants of “Illegal!” before the Supreme Court.

“Up the street!” she shouted into a megaphone. “Up the street!”

Mrs Ocasio-Cortez said that the party should not revert to “familiar tactics,” suggesting Democrats are pursuing the expansion of courts, expanding federal access to abortion pills or even abortion clinics on federal territory.

On Monday, Ms. Pelosi sent a letter to Democratic lawmakers about possible upcoming votes and action: on protecting women’s data in reproductive health apps from “sinister” prosecutors targeting those undergoing abortions, on the right to cross state lines travel and on enshrining the protections Roe v. Wade has provided in law, although such a bill — already passed by the House — is not getting enough support in the Senate.

The list didn’t include some of the most ambitious items on the progressive wish list: expanding the court or launching investigations into judges who suggested in hearings that Roe v. Wade set a precedent. Ms. Pelosi renewed her call to eliminate the filibuster.

Max Berger, a progressive strategist, sees the country’s political institutions as already a systematic failure. He said his party had failed to adapt to the tactics of Senate Republicans — who kept a Supreme Court seat open for months during former President Barack Obama’s senior year and confirmed a new justice just before former President Donald’s losing reelection bid. J. Trump — and have been left to wage an asymmetric war.

“If you’re Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden and you’ve lived your entire adult life in these institutions that they thought essentially worked, it’s very hard to wrap your head around the fact that they’re collapsing,” said Mr. Berger , who now works for More Perfect Union, a nonprofit news media advocacy group. “What we are asking more than anything is that people stop living in the past.”

Mr Berger added: “On some level, the most important thing Joe Biden could do was say, ‘When I told you the Republican fever was going to go away after Trump, I was wrong. We can’t do what we’ve been doing all my career.’”

Mr Biden, an outspoken institutionalist and a proud former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has long opposed the more activist wing of his party. In his first year as president, he appointed a commission to investigate the Supreme Court, in part to appease the left, and even that body avoided taking a position on expanding the court. On Saturday, before flying to Europe for an international summit, Mr Biden expressly avoided saying the court was broken.

“I think the Supreme Court has made some terrible decisions,” Biden said.

Melissa Byrne, a forward-thinking activist who has pushed the White House to cancel student debt, lamented a lackluster response to Roe’s overthrow as part of wider frustration at Democratic leaders’ unwillingness to act more forcefully.

“A lot of frustration stems from this institutional loyalty to how things used to be,” Ms Byrne said. “I wish the Senate would go bankrupt and abolish the filibuster and show the country what we can achieve.”

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