Democrats plan narrow path forward after latest abortion setback
Public opinion is on Dems’ side but as Republicans exploit state legislatures and the federal judiciary, the left is at the mercy of a system some of its own members have lost confidence in.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
In what can only be described as a classic Friday News Dump, District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk announced his decision to ban one of the drugs used for medication abortion, siding with anti-abortion activists who claim mifepristone was improperly approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 despite its high efficacy and low mortality rates.
The decision is a devastating blow for the one in two pregnant people who receive mifepristone for abortion or miscarriage care and all but guarantees reproductive rights will remain a potent political issue on the campaign trail ahead of next year’s election.
The ruling won’t go into effect until the end of the week to give the Justice Department time to appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court. DOJ did so late Friday night and requested an immediate hold on the decision.
Minutes after Kacsmaryk’s decision, another federal judge in Washington state ruled in a separate case brought by 16 states and the District of Columbia against the FDA that the agency was prohibited from pulling mifepristone off the market. (The lawsuit alleged that the FDA was actually too restrictive when it approved mifepristone because it required drugstores and doctors to have a specific certification to distribute or prescribe the drug.)
Abortion rights advocates argue that the competing opinions increase the likelihood that the case will end up before the Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Dobbs opinion, is the justice assigned to the Fifth Circuit and would decide if an emergency request is referred to the full court.
Democrats were united in opposition to the ruling but some varied with how aggressively they should respond to it.
“With this ruling, Republicans are once again showing how wildly out of step they are with the law,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters during a press call on Saturday morning. “And they are making clear once again the real Republican objective is: Your body, our choice.”
In a statement the night before, Schumer warned that the ruling was the latest step towards the Republican Party’s goal of a nationwide abortion ban and warned it could throw the country into chaos.
“Rightwing activists sought out an extremist judge who is vehement in his desire to take women’s rights away,” the statement said. “This ruling from an activist judge is wildly out of step with the law and sets a dangerous new precedent.”
Senate Democrats, Schumer added, would continue to try to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine the right to abortion care into law and ensure mifepristone remains available in pharmacies.
House Democrats reintroduced the legislation before Congress left for its two-week recess, but it has little to no chance of making it to the Republican-controlled floor and the legislation lacks the minimum of nine votes it needs to pass the Senate.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries compared the spread of the anti-abortion movement’s crusade against access to reproductive health care to a malignant tumor.
“These right-wing ideologues are determined to jam their extreme views down the throats of the American people,” Jeffries said in a statement. “We must all speak up, show up and stand up until the far-right uprising is peacefully and democratically crushed.”
Some congressional Democrats — including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — encouraged the Biden administration to order the FDA to ignore the ruling on the basis that it is unconstitutional.
“Everything is on the table. The president said that way back when the Dobbs decision came out,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, referring to the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. “Every option is on the table.”
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, one of the leaders in the fight to restore the federal protections to abortion care under Roe and who joined Schumer on the Saturday morning press call, seemed chilly to the idea of defying a court order before the government exhausted its other options.
“I get the sentiment because this is a truly infuriating situation. But the key thing that needs to happen right now is making sure this decision is quickly appealed and reversed in court,” Murray said. “This judge’s ruling hasn’t taken effect yet. So as of right now, women can still access the medication. It is critical that we win this fight in court.”
President Joe Biden in his own statement called out Kacsmaryk for substituting his judgment for the FDA’s.
“If this ruling were to stand, then there will be virtually no prescription, approved by the FDA, that would be safe from these kinds of political, ideological attacks.”
And Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been the Biden administration’s top surrogate for reproductive rights since Roe was overturned last summer, touched on the far-reaching consequences of the decision if it survives an appeal.
“This decision threatens the rights of Americans across the country, who can look in their medicine cabinets and find medication prescribed by a doctor because the FDA engaged in a process to determine the efficacy and safety of that medication,” she said.”
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that abortion bans have become the definitive litmus test of the 2024 Republican presidential primary ahead of next year’s general election.
But while extreme abortion politics may win primaries, the issue is radioactive for national Republicans who must attract suburban women, young people and independent voters to their coalition to win in the general.
Perhaps this explains why in the hours after the decision was released, 26 of 51 Senate Democrats issued statements or posted tweets in opposition to the Texas ruling, as Dan Diamond of The Washington Post observed. But just one Senate Republican publicly supported the decision.
“Voters will hold every last Republican accountable for an extreme anti-choice agenda that takes away Americans' freedoms and puts their health at risk,” Harrison added.
Rep. Tony Gonzalez of Texas, one of the few congressional Republicans to discuss the ruling this weekend, suggested that the country move beyond the abortion debate and discuss issues like border security, one that the GOP of course thinks is a political winner.
“Get off the abortion conversation,” Gonzalez said. “Women have a whole lot more other issues than just abortion. Let’s have those real conversations.”
The decision, as I reported last week, also has wide-reaching implications for other FDA-approved drugs.
“If [the anti-abortion movement] can go to court and get their hand-picked judge to say we’re going to withdraw the approval, then you can only imagine what’s going to come next,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said to Supercreator. “We know a lot of folks in this country have opposition to vaccines, for example. What’s to stop the next person from saying, ‘Hey, that was an ingenious idea. We never thought that would work,’ and going to court and saying we’re going to have to challenge the FDA approval of X, Y or Z drug that we have political opposition to.”
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and a candidate for the US Senate called on the Biden administration to step in through executive action.
“I’m going to keep pushing the White House to pull every lever of its power to protect women,” Gallego, who is challenging Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for her Senate seat. “And I will not stop fighting against the MAGA extremists in Congress who want to strip every level of reproductive freedom."
Jasmine Crockett, a first-term Democratic Rep. from Texas, drafted a letter with 40 other House Democrats calling on the White House to in part meet with the pharmaceutical industry to discuss the possible ramifications of an unfavorable decision regarding market access to medication abortions and the implications it will have on the FDA drug review process at large.
Based on my conversations with one current and one former White House official, there’s not much else the president can meaningfully do outside of the two executive orders he signed last year without congressional action.
In fact, Biden said as much in his own statement.
“The only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade.”
In addition to continuing for the votes to pass the WHPA, Sen. Murray said Senate Democrats would continue to force put Republicans on the record in every way they can to draw a clear contrast between the two parties.
“So here is my message today to the American people: The fight for reproductive rights did not end with the Roe decision or the Dobbs decision,” Murray said. “And it certainly won’t come to a close after [Friday’s] decision. It’s time to use your voice and your vote and fight back and speak up.”
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Welcome to Supercreator Daily, your weekday morning guide to the politicians, power brokers and policies shaping the American creator experience. It’s Monday, April 10. Happy National Siblings Day — especially to my sister Ty, for whom I’d move heaven and earth.
IN THE KNOW
THE JUSTINS COULD GET THIER SEATS BACK THIS WEEK: The counties that Justin Jones and Justin Pearson represented in the Tennessee state legislature before their expulsions last week for leading demonstrations on the House floor in protest for stronger gun violence prevention laws have scheduled meetings this week to likely reappoint them to their seats.
The Metro Council will meet this afternoon to nominate an interim replacement with multiple council members publicly committing to appoint Jones as soon as tonight. The Shelby County Commission will hold a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon to reappoint Pearson. (Special elections to complete the representatives’ full terms will then be set; each Justin will be eligible to run in those elections.)
President Biden called Jones, Pearson and Gloria Johnson, the other Tennessee state rep who faced expulsion but survived by one vote, to thank them for their leadership. A White House official said the president invited the “Tennessee Three” to visit the White House.
Vice President Harris also took a surprise trip on Friday to meet with the three members and give remarks about democracy and gun violence prevention a Fisk University, a historically Black college in Nashville.
AOC FLIPS THE CRIME BADGE OF DISHONOR BACK ON THE GOP: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that Republicans are the party of crime, a label the GOP has branded Democrats with to great effect in recent elections. The New York congresswoman made the comments in response to questions about the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump and whether she would introduce articles of impeachment against Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been the recipient of millions of dollars in luxury gifts and trips from a billionaire Republican donor while sitting on the Supreme Court — a possible violation of federal law.
MUSK WAGES WAR ON SUBSTACK: Twitter CEO Elon Musk last week started blocking links to Substack, the company that provides the technology for Supercreator, after Substack announced a new product that it says would empower writers to grow their communities outside of traditional social networks. Musk, who has alienated Twitter’s power users, empowered right-wing trolls and failed to formulate a cohesive and sustainable business model after overpaying for the app, views the new product as a competitor and accused Substack of trying to download a part of Twitter’s database to build their product, although he’s yet to provide evidence to prove his claim.
SINEMA READIES HER RE-ELECTION BID: Kyrsten Sinema is preparing to launch her 2024 re-election bid, Eliza Collins at The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday.
If she runs, Sinema would do so as an independent candidate after switching her party affiliation at the end of 2022. (She still officially caucuses with Democrats and maintains her committee assignments.)
Her candidacy would put Senate Democrats in a tough position though: The caucus has a long-standing practice of supporting incumbents, which means it would throw its resources Sinema’s way.
But Ruben Gallego is actually running as a Democrat and currently polling ahead of Sinema. Not to mention, Gallego raised nearly $4 million in the first quarter of his campaign, as I reported last Tuesday — an impressive haul that shows he’s a formidable challenge to Sinema, who was a key player in several major bills President Biden signed into law last Congress and herself is a capable fundraiser.
But due to her support of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, she’s also seen as a barrier to some of the Democrats’ key priorities, including voting rights, an expanded social safety net and a stricter corporate tax code.
And in an election where Democrats are defending 23 states to the Republicans’ 10, some strategists are worried Sinema and Gallego could split the Democrats’ vote and give the GOP an achievable path to victory in a state Biden flipped in 2020.
Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats’ campaign chief Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan have largely been able to avoid addressing the situation because Sinema hadn’t indicated if she would run again. But it looks like Sinema will force their hand sooner rather than later.
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EYE ON THE WORLD
BIDEN’S BIG IRISH TRIP IS PERSONAL: President Biden is expected to receive a warm welcome when he travels to Ireland on Tuesday through Friday where he will express pride in his Irish-American heritage and touch on his own family story and those of other Irish-Americans throughout the trip.
First up is a two-day stop in Belfast, Northern Ireland to mark the progress since the signing of the Good Friday agreement 25 years ago, which marked the end of three decades of civil war in Northern Island.
During the second leg of the trip, the president will discuss the close cooperation between the US and Ireland on several global challenges and participate in various events in the capital city of Dublin, County Louth (the birthplace of actor Pierce Brosnan of James Bond fame), and County Mayo where Biden will speak on the ties that link the two countries and its people.
BY THE NUMBERS
1977: The American Egg Board will present the First Lady’s Commemorative to Dr. Biden at the Easter Egg Roll, which will join the East Wing Colonnade of Eggs — a tradition that began in 1977 when the first First Lady’s Commemorative Egg was gifted to First Daughter Amy Carter. This year’s commemorative egg was designed and printed by Carolyn Bickel, an egg artist from Nashville, as a tribute to Dr. Biden’s three-decades-long career as an educator.
All times Eastern:
President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden this morning will host the 2023 Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn (10:15 a.m.). Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also attend. Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing with Harris (1:45 p.m.).
Biden’s week ahead:
Tuesday: The president will travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland
Wednesday: Biden will meet with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom and speak at Ulster University. Then he will travel to Dublin, Ireland and County Louth, Ireland and tour Carlington Castle before returning to Dublin.
Thursday: The president will meet with President Michael Higgins of Ireland and participate in a tree-planting ceremony and ringing of the Peace Bell. He will also meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Ireland and address the House of the Oireachtas before attending a dinner at Dublin Castle.
Friday: President Biden will travel to County Mayo, Ireland. While there he will tour the Sanctuary of Our Lady Knock and visit North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre’s Family History Research Unit. He’ll speak at Saint Muredach’s Cathedral before returning to Dublin.
Saturday: The president will travel from Dublin to Rehoboth Delaware for the weekend.
Vice President Harris will also convene a press call to announce new investments to improve access to capital and financial services in financially underserved communities (3:30 p.m.).
The House and Senate are out.
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