October 19

By Susan Milligan

President Joe Biden made a deal Tuesday with rank-and-file Democrats: Elect more Democrats to Congress, and he’ll sign a law codifying abortion rights on the January anniversary of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision the Supreme Court reversed in June.

“It’s critical to elect more Democrats. … If we do that, here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade,” Biden said at a Democratic National Committee event in Washington.

“Your right to choose rests with you. If you do your part and vote the Democratic leaders of Congress, I promise you, we’ll do our part. I’ll do my part. And with your support, I’ll sign a law codifying Roe in January,” the president said.

The president’s remarks were aimed at reigniting the anger pro-abortion rights supporters felt after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, handed down in June, overturned a half-century of guaranteed abortion rights across America. Since the ruling, Biden said, 16 states have passed abortion bans, forcing women to travel for the procedure.

The ruling appears to have initially motivated Democrats and female voters: In five special elections for Congress since Dobbs, Democrats have overperformed in every single one, including unexpectedly winning an upstate New York congressional seat. Further, women have been registering to vote at substantially higher rates across the country, according to analyses by the group TargetSmart.

But there have also been signs in polling that voters are looking at another pressing national issue – inflation and the economy, and Democrats are worried that swing voters will turn to Republicans to find ways to reduce their grocery and gas bills.

A New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday, for example, found that 49% of those surveyed plan to vote for Republicans for Congress, and 44% will choose a Democrat. That poll found that 26% cited the economy as the most important problem facing the country today, with inflation and the cost of living next in line, with 18% of voters naming it as the top concern. Abortion was cited as the top issue by just 5% of voters.

Democrats are skeptical about that particular poll. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called it an “outlier” on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Tuesday afternoon. And other polls indeed show different trends: A Morning Consult survey released Tuesday, for example, has Democrats leading the “generic ballot” with 48% voter support, compared to 45% for Republicans. A Fox News poll taken during the same days as the Siena College poll also gives Democrats the advantage, with 44% support, compared to 41% who back Republicans.

But the economy – especially inflation – continues to dog Biden’s presidency and disadvantages Democrats running for the closely divided House and Senate.

Emphasizing abortion rights can’t be the sole strategy, Democratic operatives say, arguing that Biden needs to address the high cost of living. In that vein, they note, the president’s reported plan to release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to counter OPEC’s decision to reduce oil production may ease gas prices and with it, some voter anxiety. Biden is planning to talk about gas prices on Wednesday.

But the president and fellow Democrats also need to keep reminding the rank and file of the stakes for abortion access if Republicans indeed take back control of the House and Senate, Democratic officials say.

“It feels like something to create a new call to action for his base,” says Joel Payne, a veteran Democratic strategist. “There is no national narrative that can cover everyone’s situation,” but abortion is an important issue for voters the Democrats need to turn out this fall to win key seats, he says.

Biden on Tuesday underscored what is happening – and what might happen later – if Republicans seize control of Congress. Women and girls are already being denied prescriptions in some communities for maladies such as rheumatoid arthritis, since the drugs could be used to terminate a pregnancy, he said. Females experiencing miscarriages are being turned away from emergency rooms and told to return when they are sicker, since treatment for miscarriage involves abortion.

While he would veto any abortion ban while in office, Republicans would lay the groundwork to outlaw abortion across the land, the president warned.

Biden made a particular appeal to young people, reminding them of issues he has delivered on – such as gun control, pardons for possession of marijuana and forgiving student debt.

He urged them to “remember how you felt the day the extreme Dobbs decision came down.”

“The final say about the right to choose, it rests with you,” Biden said.