The White House has not settled on a message regarding the charged pro-abortion rights protests sparked by the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning the landmark case Roe v. Wade.
The rhetoric shift is reminiscent of the mixed response from President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign to George Floyd’s death, which prompted months of demonstrations, as Biden tries simultaneously to unify the country and motivate the Democratic base before November’s midterm elections.
Democrats, such as onetime party consultant Christopher Hahn, anticipated the Supreme Court’s move and have long been candid about their hopes that it will propel Democratic voters to the polls in the fall. But despite angry protesters gathering outside Supreme Court justices’ homes and anti-abortion groups, as well as churches, reporting threats and vandalism, Hahn is adamant the demonstrations “have not crossed any line.”
“Nor do I expect they will,” Hahn, host of the Aggressive Progressive podcast, told the Washington Examiner. “The White House should do whatever they can to keep the passion of pro-choice advocates alive. This is a powerful motivator for progressives heading into the midterms and can limit expected GOP gains.”
Political commentator Costas Panagopoulos, Northeastern University’s politics chairman, agreed that “anything that can potentially energize the Democratic base right now is worth the risk going into the November elections.”
“The Democratic disadvantage in enthusiasm can be fatal for Democrats in 2022, and the recent developments on abortion can level the playing field,” he said.
Republicans have an average 3-percentage-point advantage on a generic congressional ballot as of Tuesday, according to RealClearPolitics. The GOP also has history on its side, with the governing party tending to lose seats during midterm cycles. The Senate is evenly split, and House Republicans only need to net five seats to flip their chamber. Former President Barack Obama, for instance, shed about 60 House seats in 2010 and Bill Clinton roughly 50 in 1994.
But the White House does not appear as certain as Hahn or Panagopoulos concerning the protest’s political consequences.
Press secretary Jen Psaki adopted a defensive tone Tuesday after protesters converged on the home of Virginia-based Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the draft opinion’s author, the previous night.
“There are voices on the Right who have called out this, protests that are happening, while remaining silent for years on protests that have happened outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan secretary of state, or including threats made to women seeking reproductive healthcare, or even an insurrection against our capital,” she said.
Psaki and her aides were more conciliatory a day earlier related to weekend protests outside the Maryland houses of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanagh, in addition to the Molotov cocktail attack on Wisconsin Family Action’s headquarters. But despite Maryland and Virginia ordinances discouraging demonstrations outside private residences, she did not condemn the activism outright.
“We’re certainly not suggesting anyone break any laws,” she said Monday. “The president’s view has long been — and I tweeted this earlier this morning and made a number of these comments last week as well — that violence, threats, and intimidation have no place in political discourse.”
Psaki declined to comment on whether the protests are helpful to the abortion rights cause, as Roberts and Kavanaugh could be swing votes in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The lawsuit necessitates a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 2018 15-week pre-fetal viability ban on abortion.
“In terms of the productive question, that’s not for me to speak to,” Psaki said. “Obviously, these justices make decisions as an independent body. How they are influenced or if they are influenced is not for me to make a determination of.”
“We’re not here to give tactical advice to protesters,” she added.
Such language can be contrasted to last week’s reaction to the doxxing of Supreme Court justices and vandalism to places of worship, such as Colorado’s Sacred Heart of Mary Church.
“The president’s view is that there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across this country about what they saw in that leaked document,” Psaki said at the time. “We obviously want people’s privacy to be respected. We want people to protest peacefully if they want to protest.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has led GOP criticism of Biden and his staff for not denouncing the protests, describing it as “dangerous” as the president also struggles to manage a crime spike. Biden is further hamstrung in terms of executive action or relying on his Capitol Hill colleagues given the lawmaker composition.
“These far-left radicals know they have permission from Biden and Democrats to commit violence against pro-life organizations, harass churchgoers, and threaten and obstruct the Supreme Court,” McDaniel said. “Biden and Democrats are responsible as long as they remain silent.”
Republicans similarly scrutinized Biden’s 2020 campaign for equivocating with respect to the Floyd protests. Former President Donald Trump’s campaign spokesman, Andrew Clark, for example, slammed Biden for failing “to condemn the violent rioting until late Saturday evening.”
“Meanwhile, Biden’s [aides] were busy tweeting out fundraising links to pay bail for people arrested during the riots,” Clark said that summer. “While minority communities and businesses burned, Biden’s staff were focused on helping the perpetrators.”
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