The fight over abortion rights is helping Kamala Harris find her voice as vice president
With the midterm elections less than 100 days away, Indiana state Sen. Jean Breaux, D-D., told CNN on Sunday that he could see abortion rights as an opportunity for Harris to show her leadership — so now as well as in the future.
“I thought there was something behind it for her too. That he was trying to position himself as a leader on this issue so he could show America that he has the ability to lead and be able to articulate an issue that resonates. voters across the country,” she said after attending a roundtable event with the vice president last week.
Breaux told CNN that despite this, she believed Harris was “genuinely concerned about abortion and the loss of abortion rights for women in this country,” and White House officials and others are downplaying the idea that Harris is making a political play focusing on abortion. They argue that it only responds to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established abortion as a constitutional right.
“This is not about the next election. This is about an attack on women’s reproductive rights. This is about an extreme Republican Party that is willing to dismantle freedoms and erode rights. I don’t think anyone is thinking about it in a political sense,” Cedric said. Richmond, who left his position in the White House to be a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee.
While there is no action President Joe Biden can take to restore the nation’s right to abortion, Democrats and advocates are pushing the White House to do more for abortion rights. The White House has rejected several progressive ideas to protect abortion access, including allowing abortion providers to work from federal property in states where the procedure is prohibited.
Abortion rights have long been a major issue for Harris in her campaigns. When he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, he promised, if elected, to require states with a history of restricting abortion rights to get federal approval before any new abortion laws take effect. “We cannot tolerate a perspective that is about going backwards and not understanding that women have power,” Harris said at the time.
She brings the same intensity to her discussions with state lawmakers about how to respond to the Dobbs decision, in which conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Aides say the vice president plans to be more visible on whatever issue is front and center for the Democratic Party as November approaches. In particular, Harris will continue to promote abortion rights, stepping up her travel to speak about the “urgency of the moment,” three months before the midterms, her aides say.
“As a former local official, the vice president knows all too well the critical role these leaders play, especially now when it comes to protecting access to reproductive care,” Harris’ spokeswoman Kirsten Allen told CNN. “The vice president will continue to travel the country and meet with leaders and people on the ground to highlight what’s at stake and build coalitions to protect a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, without government interference.”
Harris finds her voice on the road
The vice president has been traveling from state to state this summer, sometimes making several trips a week since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June. Harris has focused on deep red and purple states like Florida, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where lawmakers have already enacted or are debating a new restrictive measure to limit or simply eliminate access of women undergoing abortion.
Harris will increase this already increased political travel in the coming months, with a significant number of trips focused on raising money for the DNC Victory Fund and the Democratic Base Fund, according to a DNC official.
“She was intentional about going to places and calling mostly Republican governors in a way that we really haven’t done before,” one aide said.
Harris’ allies, who have previously criticized the administration’s use of the vice president, are now heralding President Joe Biden for positioning her effectively on an issue where she has “deep credibility.”
“This is just an area where she has a more defined profile,” said the White House official, who noted that her focus intensified after Harris’ strong pro-abortion speech on Emily’s List hours after the draft opinion was leaked. “It was a confluence of events, ability and opportunity all rolled into one.”
The official said Harris then directed her office to provide its data on the broader implications of the Supreme Court decision, such as the results of in vitro fertilization (IVF), access to birth control and same-sex marriage.
But these recent appearances give hope to supporters who may have questioned what happened to the feisty former prosecutor who made headlines for Republicans during Senate hearings.
“If you think of her as a rising star in the party, that’s what people saw,” one person allied with Harris told CNN. “They tell me, ‘Yeah, she’s a fighter for us.’ And so having her voice out there on this issue helps both in the literal battle, but then also in mobilizing voters and reminding voters of what she’s uniquely capable of.”
Less than 100 days
The roundtables with state lawmakers have been a winning model for the vice president, allies say, as they bolster Harris’ ability to convene and organize while also shining a light on restrictive policy proposals across the country.
They also gave Harris an avenue to show off the skills he had acquired over the years as a prosecutor and attorney general in California, providing a more emphatic voice for abortion rights than the president, who has a complicated history on the issue.
“I think in matters like this, it’s clear why they’re a good couple,” a source close to Harris told CNN.
“At this time of crisis her unique history, credibility and expertise are invaluable to both the administration and the country,” said Karen Finney, NARAL vice president and Democratic strategist.
The vice president has directed staff, aides say, to put more emphasis on younger voter turnout as November nears. And a source at a Democratic-aligned super PAC told CNN that their focus groups show that Harris remains a popular figure among black voters, despite the overall drop in the President’s approval rating.
“So that’s going to be an important angle down the road,” the source said, suggesting Harris could be deployed to help Democrats in tough House races such as Sanford Bishop of Georgia or Amelia Sykes of Ohio, who is running for an open seat.
The vice president will begin her campaign with a relatively new team around her after a number of staff left her office. A source familiar with office relations says faster decision-making has streamlined coordination with the West Wing and the vice president’s office during the administration’s second year. A White House official credited Anita Dunn, who returned to the White House amid staff changes in the West Wing, as responsible for some of the positive changes.
This led to Harris becoming more of a public figure than she was during her first year, giving more media interviews in 2022 than in 2021 and making far more trips to promote the Biden agenda.
Harris has held more than two dozen roundtables on abortion rights since a draft opinion previewing the overturning of Roe v. Wade was published in Politico in May.
Florida Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who attended two roundtables with Harris in both Washington and Orlando and rode on Air Force 2, said, “I really feel like he wants to hear what we’re experiencing on the ground.”
In a way, Harris is trying to craft a national message for Democrats — repeating at nearly every roundtable how “you don’t have to give up your faith or your beliefs to agree that the government shouldn’t be making this decision” about the women.
But supporters say Harris could do more as they push the White House to be more aggressive on abortion rights legislation and rise to the occasion.
“I’m really happy that the vice president is doing these things,” Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, told CNN in an interview. “But we were asking for very specific things and we need to see them delivered.”
“It would be amazing to see her have a stronger voice, to be able to say the word abortion without apology,” Sherman said, “to have her remind everyone in this country that everyone loves someone who has had an abortion, and also to see actions from the White House that match her action.”
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Isaac Dovere, Kevin Liptak and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.