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Politics chat: Democrats focus on abortion rights while Republicans focus on leak

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Joining me now to talk about the political storm over abortion is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. First, Mara, has there been any fallout for the Supreme Court since the draft opinion in the abortion rights case was leaked to Politico?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes, there has been. We still don't know who leaked it. There are two schools of thought on that. First, it was an anti-abortion cleric or justice who leaked it in order to lock in votes for overturning Roe; second, it was a liberal cleric or justice who wanted to raise the alarm. But we don't know the answer to that. But we do know that it's diminished trust among the justices, yet another institution further polarized.

And on Friday in Atlanta, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke to the 11th Circuit Judicial Conference, and he said that government institutions should not be bullied into giving the outcomes certain people want. Democrats, of course, said wasn't that exactly what Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas, was doing when she sent 29 text messages to the Trump White House around January 6, urging them to keep fighting to overturn the results of the 2020 election - an outcome that she didn't like? But I think the bottom line is that last week's leak is just another blow to the high court's disappearing image as some kind of nonpartisan umpire that calls balls and strikes.

RASCOE: OK. So, I mean, what about the political fallout over this draft opinion? Obviously you're looking at the politics of this.

LIASSON: Sure. Democrats are outraged. They hope this will energize their voters. What's been surprising has been the reaction of Republicans in Washington who are not rejoicing loudly along with their base of pro-life activists, maybe because they understand they have not won the battle for hearts and minds on this issue. Polls continue to show a big majority of Americans favor keeping Roe rather than getting rid of it.

I guess I'd describe the political battle that's shaping up as which party can be painted as more extreme on abortion, and which party can capture consensus opinion on this issue? And, believe it or not, there is a consensus on this. This used to be understood as abortion being safe, legal and rare. In other words, people are uncomfortable with no restrictions. They don't want abortion on demand, but they want to keep Roe. They don't want abortion made illegal after 15 weeks. They don't like it when the law starts prosecuting patients and providers. That's why the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is advising their candidates to stress that they're not against contraception. They don't want to jail women or their doctors. But that's hard when Republican state legislators around the country are talking about criminalizing abortion, getting rid of exceptions for rape and incest, giving the embryo rights at fertilization. Even Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, told USA Today that legislation creating a national ban on abortion was, quote, "possible."

RASCOE: But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says there will be a vote next week on a bill to protect abortion access. But that's another very long shot in the Senate, right?

LIASSON: Right. Democrats don't have the votes to pass that bill. It's a messaging bill. And that's why Democratic strategists say Democrats have to be really careful that they don't get painted as the party of abortion on demand, that they become the party of abortion being safe, legal and rare.

RASCOE: But, Mara, like, how much of this is actually going to affect the midterms? Is abortion going to be a motivator, especially when you have things out there like inflation and, you know, those kind of pocketbook issues?

LIASSON: That is the giant question here. Will this issue do more than just change some races around the edges? Will this help Democrats close the enthusiasm gap? Their voters are less excited about the election, less likely to turn out than Republicans. Inflation and the economy are still the No. 1 issues. If inflation sticks around, if COVID sticks around, this is still a sour electorate that's unhappy with the party in power. And we don't know how much the abortion debate is going to change that.

RASCOE: OK. In the minute we have left, we talked before about whether Donald Trump's endorsement is a kingmaker. There were some tests last week. What did we find?

LIASSON: Well, we found out that in Ohio, he is the kingmaker. He endorsed J.D. Vance, who was polling in single digits. But then Vance surged, clinched the nomination. Trump wants to do the same thing in Pennsylvania, where he's endorsed celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. Oz is running against David McCormick, whose wife served in the Trump White House, but Trump is leaning hard against McCormick. And at a rally on Friday, he called McCormick a, quote, "liberal Wall Street Republican who managed money for communist China." Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: So I don't know David well, and he may be a nice guy. But he's not MAGA. He's not MAGA.

LIASSON: Yeah. He went on to say, He's not my guy. And what is really McCormick's big sin? Talking about Trump's responsibility for the January 6 insurrection. And he has refused to support Trump's big lie that he was the true winner of the 2020 election.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.