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“Freedom is on our side”: Why Alexis McGill Johnson feels hopeful about the future of abortion rights
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund president and CEO in conversation with Supercreator on the “inside-outside” game, how to stay energized against unrelenting attacks on reproductive rights and more.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
For Vice President Kamala Harris’s first political event after President Joe Biden announced their re-election campaign, she went to a familiar venue to discuss a familiar topic.
At her alma mater Howard University in front of an energized standing-room-only crowd full of the young Black voters Biden and Harris will need to win four more years in the White House, Harris delivered a rousing defense of abortion rights while railing against “extremist so-called leaders” who are proposing and passing restrictions to reproductive health care at the state and national level.
Harris was joined by leaders from the top abortion rights advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson whom Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said has provided steadfast, principled and nimble leadership in the movement to protect, expand and restore abortion rights across the country.
“Across the nation we’re facing unprecedented and coordinated attacks on our reproductive rights and I have been grateful for her partnership and her willingness to speak plainly about the impact on our most marginalized folks — Black, brown and indigenous women, folks with disabilities and the LGBTQ community,” Pressley said in a statement to Supercreator. “This fight is sobering but we are ceding nothing and that is the conviction Alexis brings to every conversation.”
Ahead of the rally, I hopped on the phone with Planned Parenthood Action Fund President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson to chat about the importance of partnering with congressional Democrats to defend access to abortion care, how to stay energized in the face of unrelenting attacks on reproductive rights and why, as she said, freedom is on her movement’s side.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Your relationships in Congress, especially on the Democratic side, are so important to the work you do. Can you speak to the role the “inside-outside” game plays in protecting and expanding abortion rights?
I think inside-outside strategy is important to move policy. It’s important for the people who are inside the administration, inside Congress, to really have an understanding that as they move forward with pushing hard policies that there will be support for those folks who are champions for the fights that we’re a part of.
I do think that having that direct line, being able to explain in real terms what the patient experience looks like, what providers are fearful of, and kind of how this is really playing out on the ground. It’s just real lived experience and information that goes into policymaking.
I also think for me, inside-outside — it's about accountability, right? There aren’t always times where we are 100 percent on this on the same side or we'd like to see people push further and be more creative and throw all the all the solutions up against the wall to see what will stick. I think we serve as a kind of creative accountability counterpart in that way, too. And I think it’s really important that we can hold both spaces.
It seems like there are new statewide abortion bans being signed into law on an almost daily basis and a national abortion ban appears to be a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. How can readers remain energized and focused in these aggressive anti-abortion policies?
I think it’s important to really be a student of what is happening in history in this moment and also understand kind of what has happened before because most of it is not brand new.
When you are a student and a keen observer, what you're doing is you're giving yourself an opportunity to see really the long game. And I think it just allows you to kind of stay in the space without kind of getting ping-ponged around saying, “Oh my God, I can't believe they did X” or “Oh my God, I can’t believe they they went there.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise because these fights around power and control have been since time immemorial — it’s just different bodies and different people and different generations.
It forces you to really reflect on how we can stand in our leadership in this moment: How we can learn from the past and really think what's the insight or the work that we can do to make it better for the next generation?
What makes you optimistic about the future of our democracy and reproductive freedom?
The road is long. But I think I think there is momentum on our side. It's not just that we're in a unique moment, it's the fact that we are actually driving new momentum in this moment. And that's what I would love for people to hold on to. It's not an accident that we won in Wisconsin, and Kansas, and Kentucky and Montana and California and Vermont.
It’s that freedom is on our side and the opposition is really working overtime because they understand that the majority of Americans want to make their own decisions about their own bodies, they want to make their own decisions about their policies in their state, that they want to be able to make their own decisions about being able to read accurate history. And I think that all of that I think will redound to the freedom of future generations. And I think we have to remember that.”
See also: “The impending disaster of Florida’s 6-week abortion ban” (Andrea González-Ramírez / The Cut)
👋🏾 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 Wednesday, April 26.
••• President Biden on Tuesday morning made his 2024 re-election campaign official with a slick three-minute launch video that positioned the president as the defender of the freedoms that are under attack by extreme Republicans.
Supercreator checked in with Kyle Tharp, author of the FWIW newsletter which tracks digital politics, for his thoughts on the president’s rollout and the response — or lack thereof — from former President and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump’s camp:
On the launch video: “The launch video was well produced and strong, racking up millions of views within hours, and the campaign’s multi-channel fundraising program blasted out appeals via email, text, social media, and digital ads all day long. The “Dark Brandon” merch was a nice touch, and the campaign’s updated branding is pretty slick and modern.”
On why it was effective: “The Biden campaign’s launch was a masterclass in flipping the right switches in order to have a successful day one of online fundraising. The Presideent’s team, working alongside the [Democratic National Committee], was able to provide multiple outlets for supporters to get involved, share their excitement, and donate.”
On Trump: “I was particularly surprised by the Trump campaign’s response to Biden’s launch. They seemed to lack any clear plan to capitalize on anti-Biden sentiment, and as far as I can tell, did not make his launch a major focus on their own fundraising.”
The bottom line: “At the end of the day, a campaign’s launch comes down to one thing — fundraising —and it seems like Team Biden’s bank account is going to get a huge boost this week.”
Counterpoint: Ryan Grim of the Intercept argued that the launch video mentioned “zero on what [Biden will] do when it comes to jobs, wages, inflation, union power, health care or abortion rights. Read Grim’s Twitter thread
It’s worth noting Biden’s first public speech after the launch was to union workers on where he made the case for his economic agenda and contrasted it against the Republican’s. And as I reported in the opener, Harris discussed abortion rights for over twenty minutes during her first post-launch political event.
ICYMI: “Biden’s 2024 bet”
See also: “Biden's campaign is selling 'Dark Brandon' T-shirts to mark 2024 reelection announcement” (Bryan Metzger / Insider)
••• In related news, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre whiffed a softball question during Tuesday’s press briefing when she was asked if President Biden planned to serve all eight years if he’s reelected in 2024: “That’s something for him to decide,” she said about her 80-year-old boss who’s already the oldest sitting president and facing concerns about his age.
In a follow-up tweet, Jean-Pierre explained her response was an attempt to avoid violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal government employees, except the president and vice president, from some political activities.
“But I can confirm that if re-elected, @POTUS would serve all 8 years,” she said.
See also: “Biden should take voters’ concerns about age seriously” (The Editorial Board / NYT) … “How Joe Biden's campaign hopes to overcome his age problem” (Anthony Zurcher / BBC) … “Why Joe Biden deserves a second term despite his age” (Scot Lehigh / Boston Globe)
••• As House Republican leadership searches for the final votes it needs to bring a proposal to raise the debt limit and disinvest funding from key social programs, the top two Senate leaders on Tuesday ratcheted up their rhetoric on the topic.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer branded the House GOP’s bill as the “Default on America Act. Because that’s exactly what it is: DOA,” referring to the acronym for “dead on arrival.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has vocally defended House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s strategy in recent days put the onus on the White House to avoid a catastrophic default: “We should not even come within a mile of flirting with a Democratic debt default on top of all the rest. It’s time for President Biden to stop the partisan stubbornness, join Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the grown-up’s table and get talking.”
That’s not happening yet, of course. From the White House’s perspective, why would it meet with a leader who can’t even pass his own bill on his own timeline? Plus, President Biden still wants to decouple the debt limit increase from negotiations on next year’s federal budget.
Instead, the White House, congressional Democrats and advocacy groups are flooding the zone with programming and paper on how terrible the plan would be for kids, older adults, low-income people and folks with student loan debt.
A few more notes on the situation in the House:
At one point on Tuesday afternoon, the no votes for McCarthy’s plan were as high as 14, Supercreator was told. By late evening, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said the no count was at least eight. (McCarthy can only lose four and House Democratic leadership is confident none of their members will help solve the speaker’s math problem.)
House GOP leadership reportedly spent the night tweaking the bill to accelerate the tougher work requirements on social programs and strike some of the rollbacks to energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the plan would save $4.8 trillion over the next decade. In response, the White House said that four-fifths of the savings would be wiped out by tax giveaways to wealthy individuals and big corporations though.
House Republicans meet at 9 am so we’ll have a better sense of if they’ll vote to pass the bill after.
••• The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this morning is scheduled to vote to advance the nomination of Julie Su to be Labor Secretary.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said he didn’t know yet if Su had the votes for confirmation yet. No Republicans are expected to vote for Su, who is the current Deputy Labor Secretary and would be the first Asian American to lead the Labor Department, while three Democratic swing votes haven’t announced if they’ll support the nomination.
See also: “Who’s Afraid of Julie Su?” (Sarah Jones / Intelligencer)
••• Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Tuesday afternoon took to the Senate floor to attempt to break an impasse on hundreds of military promotions that Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama is holding up as a protest to a Defense Department policy that provides leave and reimbursed expenses for members who travel for abortion care.
“Holding up the promotions of every single military nominee isn’t democracy, it’s extortion,” Warren said. “And that kind of extortion has serious consequences for our national defense. These holds pose a grave threat to our national security and military readiness.”
John Thune, the number-two Senate Republican, said that if Democrats were willing to sit down with Tuberville and negotiate, both sides could find a path forward. But Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said doing so would set a precedent that both sides could exploit to the detriment of the institution.
••• Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina introduced a bill that would attempt to stop the flow of fentanyl into the US by choking off the income source for the illicit drug’s supply chain, from the chemical suppliers in China to the cartels that traffic the drugs in from Mexico.
••• Chuck Schumer scheduled a vote for Thursday to advance a resolution that would remove the arbitrary deadline preventing the Equal Rights Amendment from becoming ratified as the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution.
“Anyone who thinks the ERA isn’t necessary at a time like this is not paying attention to the terrible things happening in this country,” Schumer said on Tuesday. “In the past year alone, the US Supreme Court has eliminated the protections of Roe v. Wade, our courts have targeted drugs like mifepristone, and we’ve seen over a dozen hard right states enact near-total bans on abortions. We need the ERA more than ever, ever before.”
••• Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania introduced a bill that would create nearly one million new Registered Apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, and pre-apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years by investing more than $3.8 billion over the period. The lawmakers said the resources would help scale up apprenticeship opportunities, streamline access to apprenticeships for both workers and employers and expand apprenticeships into new and in-demand industry sectors and occupations.
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All times Eastern:
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (8 am). Then the president, Vice President Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will greet President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee of South Korea for the official arrival ceremony of their state visit (10 am). Biden and Yoon will participate in a bilateral meeting (10:45) and a joint press conference (12:30 pm). The president and first lady this evening will greet Yoon and Kim (7 pm) ahead of a photo op (7:25 pm) and state dinner (8:30 pm), which Harris and Emhoff will attend.
Dr. Biden will also host Kim at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (11 am) and speak at the 2023 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (1 pm).
The House is in at 10 am with first votes expected at 1:30 pm and last votes at 4:45 pm.
The Senate is in at 10 am with a vote scheduled at 12 pm to confirm Joshua David Jacobs to be Under Secretary for Benefits at the Veterans Affairs Department. Two additional votes are scheduled to advance legislation that would require the VA to conduct long-term research on the use of medical cannabis to treat veterans with chronic pain and post‑traumatic stress disorder (2:15 pm) and a bill that would overturn a regulation on heavy-duty vehicle emissions (4 pm).
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Grace Segars on the future of the expanded Child Tax Credit, which is now with the states … Mary Harris on how the right to self-defense got so warped … Wesley Lowery on journalistic objectivity, democracy, and the American mosaic … Henry Grabar on why more Americans are using fake license plates and getting away with it … Christina Cauterucci on why Harlan Crow — Justice Clarence Thomas’s benefactor — is America’s next top villain … Kathryn VanArendonk in conversation with Roy Wood Jr. on his future at The Daily Show … Bianca Nieves on what she learned about fashion at Coachella … Adam Mastroianni on how he ruined two birthday parties and learned the limits of psychology … Anna North in conversation with Sara Petersen on the expensive, unrealistic, and extremely white world of “momfluencers” … Alissa Wilkinson on what happens if there’s a Hollywood writers strike … Lane Moore on how to find friends as an adult
May 1, 2023 at 10:41 am: This post was updated to include a statement from Rep. Ayanna Pressley.