Baltimore Sun

Biden’s methods seen as ineffectua­l

Many activists tire of hearing what president can’t do

- By Seung Min Kim

WASHINGTON — On restoring access to abortion, President Joe Biden says his hands are tied without more Democratic senators. Declaring a public health emergency on the matter has downsides, his aides say. And as for gun violence, Biden has been clear about the limits of what he can do on his own.

“There’s a Constituti­on,” Biden said from the South Lawn in late May. “I can’t dictate this stuff.”

Throughout this century, presidents have often pushed aggressive­ly to extend the boundaries of executive power. Biden talks more about its limits.

When it comes to the thorniest issues confrontin­g his administra­tion, the instinct from Biden and his White House is often to speak about what he cannot do, citing constraint­s imposed by the courts or insufficie­nt support in a Congress controlled by his own party — though barely.

He injects a heavy dose of reality in speaking to an increasing­ly restive Democratic base, which has demanded action on issues such as abortion and voting rights before the November elections.

White House officials and the president’s allies say that approach typifies a leader who has always promised to be honest with Americans, including about how expansive his powers really are.

But Biden’s realpoliti­k tendencies are colliding with

an activist base agitating for a more aggressive party leader — both in tone and substance. Although candidate Biden sold himself as the person who best knew the ways of Washington, he nonetheles­s is hamstrung by the same obstacles that have bedeviled his predecesso­rs.

“I think that if you hesitate from important actions like this just because of a legal challenge, then you would do nothing,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who has been pressing for more administra­tive actions on abortion. “People all across the country are expecting us — the leaders — to do something.”

Biden’s cautionary

approach could be to protect himself if the White House falls short — like Democrats did in negotiatin­g a party-line spending package centered on the social safety net and climate provisions. That sweeping effort had been steadily thwarted due to resistance from two moderate Democrats, one of them West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who on Thursday scuttled for the time being a scaled-back effort that focused on climate and taxes.

That developmen­t prompted calls from Democratic senators for Biden to unilateral­ly declare a climate emergency. In a

statement Friday while in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Biden pledged to take “strong executive action to meet this moment” on climate.

But in recent weeks, that gap between “yes, we can” and “no, we can’t” has been most glaring on abortion.

Since the Supreme Court last month overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling from 1973 with its constituti­onal protection­s for abortion, the White House has come under considerab­le pressure to try to maintain access to abortion in conservati­ve states that are set to outlaw the procedure.

Advocates have implored Biden to look into

establishi­ng abortion clinics on federal lands. They have asked the administra­tion to help transport women seeking abortions to a state that offers the procedure. And Democratic lawmakers are pressing the White House to declare a public health emergency.

Without rejecting the ideas completely, White House aides have expressed skepticism about such requests. Even as he signed an executive order last week to begin addressing the issue, Biden had one clear, consistent message: that he could not do this on his own, shifting attention to the other end of

Pennsylvan­ia Avenue.

“The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose and the balance that existed is for Congress to restore the protection­s of Roe v. Wade as federal law,” Biden said shortly after the court struck down Roe. “No executive action from the president can do that.”

Shortly after declaring that the filibuster — a Senate rule that requires 60 votes for most legislatio­n to advance — should not apply for abortion and privacy measures, Biden acknowledg­ed during a meeting with Democratic governors that his newfound position would not make a difference, at least not right away.

“The filibuster should not stand in the way of us being able to do that,” Biden said of writing the protection­s of Roe into federal law. “But right now, we don’t have the votes in the Senate to change the filibuster.”

But some advocates don’t want to hear from Biden about what he can’t do.

Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of the group We Testify, which advocates for women who have had abortions, said the administra­tion should proceed with a public health emergency even if it’s eventually blocked by the courts.

“It tells those people who need abortions that the president is trying to help them, and that the thing that’s stopping him is the court, not himself, or his own projection­s on what could possibly happen,” she said, later adding, “The fact that he’s an institutio­nalist and cannot look around and see the institutio­ns around him are crumbling is the problem.”

 ?? EVAN VUCCI/AP ?? President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access at an event July 8 in the White House. Biden has come under considerab­le pressure to try to maintain access to abortion in conservati­ve states that are set to outlaw the procedure.
EVAN VUCCI/AP President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access at an event July 8 in the White House. Biden has come under considerab­le pressure to try to maintain access to abortion in conservati­ve states that are set to outlaw the procedure.

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