WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden, under pressure over high inflation, sought to mobilize his left-leaning base on Tuesday by promising to sign a law to codify abortion rights in January if Democrats control the legislature next year.
Biden’s Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate too, in the November elections. The president is trying to rally the party and its supporters around abortion rights, which were sharply curtailed by the Supreme Court’s decision nearly four months ago to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling.
If Democrats elect more senators and keep control of the House, Biden said he would sign a law in January to ensure women’s right to abortion across the country.
“Here is 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 during remarks at the historic Howard Theatre in Washington.
Democrats currently have a slim majority in the House and control the 50-50 Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast tie-breaking votes.
But passing a bill on abortion could be difficult even if Democrats hold onto their Senate majority, as that chamber’s rules require 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation.
Republicans largely oppose abortion rights, while Democrats largely support them.
The Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion in June, drawing condemnation from Biden and spurring optimism among Democrats that outrage over the decision would drive voters to the polls in November.
But high inflation has remained at the top of voters’ minds, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Nationwide, just 8% of Americans cited the end of national abortion rights as the issue that will most influence how they vote in November, compared with 27% who cited inflation in a poll conducted Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.
Some 20% of Democratic women cite the end of national abortion rights as their top issue for the midterms, compared with 22% who cite inflation. Outside that group, abortion is a lower priority.
Biden, in an effort to connect with the emotion that many people expressed in June, urged Americans to remember how they felt the day the court’s decision overturning Roe was announced.
“I want you to remember that the final say does not rest in the court now. It does not rest with extremist Republicans in Congress… it rests with you,” he said.
The president also cited a part of the Supreme Court ruling that said women are not without electoral or political power, suggesting they could mobilize and elect lawmakers to guarantee abortion rights.
“Let me tell you something. The court and the extreme Republicans who spent decades trying to overturn Roe are about to find out,” Biden said. Abortion bans have gone into effect in 16 states since the court’s ruling.
Some Democrats have suggested abolishing the Senate filibuster – a legislative roadblock that requires a 60-vote majority to overcome – to pass an abortion-rights rule, but so far have not succeeded in drumming up the support within their ranks to make that change.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that Biden would support a carveout of the filibuster reform in order to codify abortion rights. Biden has said he will support such a move in the past.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said, “we encourage pro-life Republicans to keep going on offense to expose this extremist position.”
Biden and top White House officials this month announced new guidelines and grants to protect abortion and contraception rights. (Reporting by Jeff Mason and Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Doina Chiacu and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Josie Kao and Rosalba O’Brien)