MANASSAS, Va. — President Biden, Vice President Harris and their spouses appeared together for a campaign rally here focused on “reproductive freedom,” a political show of force designed to blast former president Donald Trump over abortion and keep the issue front and center ahead of November’s elections.
The Tuesday afternoon rally, which was interrupted several times by pro-Palestinian protesters, took place as voters in New Hampshire were casting ballots in a primary race that could prove pivotal in determining the trajectory of 2024 presidential race.
Aware that a win by Trump in the New Hampshire primary could effectively end the GOP nominating contest, kick-starting the general election earlier than any time in recent memory, Biden attacked his predecessor by name multiple times.
“Let’s remember, it was Donald Trump and his Supreme Court who ripped away the rights and freedoms of women in America,” he told the crowd at a performing arts center near George Mason University. “It will be Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris and all of you, who will restore those rights.”
His speech was interrupted at least 1o times by pro-Palestinian protesters, including people chanting “Genocide Joe!” and “Free Palestine!” and waiving flags that said “Stop Genocide.”
“This is going to go on for a while,” Biden said after one outburst. “They’ve got this planned.”
After each interruption, the crowd erupted into chants of “Four more years!” and “Let’s go Joe!” and Biden continued with his speech, declining to address the situation in Gaza. Still, the constant disruption signaled how much Biden’s support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza — which has led to the deaths of more than 25,000 people — has become a ubiquitous political liability for the president.
Biden’s remarks on abortion highlighted a key issue on which Democrats have seen repeated success over the past two years, with voters turning out in droves to oppose limitations on abortion enabled by the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Biden, a practicing Catholic, has at times seemed constrained in his public commentary about abortion, balancing his personal beliefs and politics. During a fundraiser last year, he said “I’m not big on abortion,” while reiterating that he would like to see the protections of Roe codified into law.
During a meeting of his top officials at the White House on Monday, Biden made sure to stipulate that he was not pushing for “abortion on demand” but rather federal policy that would codify the protections that Supreme Court justices outlined in its 1973 Roe decision.
“I believe Roe v. Wade was right. I’m not supporting — they didn’t support abortion on demand,” he said at the event, which marked the 51st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling. “It was Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was the decision. And the majority of Americans agreed.”
Harris has at times led the administration’s messaging on the issue, attacking “extremist” Republicans for banning abortions.
“Across our nation, women are suffering — and let us be very clear about who is responsible,” Harris said Tuesday. “Former president Trump handpicked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe. He intended for them to take your freedoms. He is the architect of this health care crisis. And he is not done.”
Her appearance came one day after she traveled to Wisconsin to kick off what’s expected to be a nationwide tour focused on abortion, which the Biden campaign has framed as part of a broader set of personal freedoms under threat by a second Trump presidency.
For his part, Trump has sought to take a more politically palatable approach to abortion after Republicans faced a series of losses in races where abortion access was a central issue.
During a Fox News town hall earlier this month, he talked about being in favor of allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. Trump, who has referred to six-week abortion bans as “harsh,” said at the town hall that “a lot of women don’t know if they’re pregnant at five or six weeks,” echoing a message Democrats have used successfully. He has not campaigned in favor of a national abortion ban.
“I will say this, you have to win elections,” Trump said at the town hall. “Otherwise you are going to be back where you were. You can’t ever let that happen again.”
Democrats and advocates have countered by pointing out that it was Trump who appointed three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade in 2022. They have resurfaced and circulated clips of Trump boasting about the Supreme Court’s decision and suggesting that women who undergo abortions should receive some form of “punishment.”
“Donald Trump is responsible for overturning Roe,” said Mini Timmaraju, head of Reproductive Freedom for All, the activist organization formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League. “We have to pin it on him.”
Trump’s performance in the New Hampshire primary, which typically features more moderate voters, could be a test of his handling of the abortion issue. Biden’s name is not on the ballot in the state, after Democrats opted to change their primary schedule for 2024, selecting the more diverse South Carolina as the first primary, on Feb. 3.
So, as Republicans focused much of their attention on New Hampshire, Biden, Harris, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff were about 35 miles outside Washington speaking to a crowd of a few hundred supporters.
Biden campaign officials said the location of the rally in Northern Virginia was resonant because the state’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, had sought to prove last year that the 15-week abortion restriction that he supported was a reasonable position backed by a majority of voters. Youngkin’s party lost several seats in the November legislative election, and Democrats captured control of the House of Delegates.
While the president largely has steered clear of using the word “abortion” — instead opting for terms like “freedom,” “choice” and “care” — his Republican critics have not shied away from directly challenging Biden on the issue.
“Joe Biden dodges questions on abortion limitations because he knows that Democrats’ support for abortion on demand … is out of touch with the mainstream,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Tuesday in a statement.
At the same time, even some Democrats are suggesting Biden could offer more clarity on the issue of abortion.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said recently that “it would be good” if Biden spoke more about abortion in public.
“I think people want to know that this is a president that is fighting,” she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “And I think he has said that. To use maybe more blunt language, maybe that would be helpful.”