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Biden is scheduled to make a major speech on abortion rights

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden is scheduled to make what the White House is billing as a major speech later today about abortion rights.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Voters in some states are already casting ballots in the midterm election. Is the focus on abortion going to persuade more Democrats to fill out their ballots, and will it be enough for the party to keep its slim majorities in Congress?

MARTINEZ: I'm going to pose that question and more to our senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. All right. So what are the details of today's speech, and why is the White House saying that President Biden is focusing on this now?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, the White House says this is part of the ongoing effort by the president and the administration to try and call attention to, quote, "an assault on access to women's health care" by Republican officials. And he'll likely talk about federal and state attempts at restricting abortion rights. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been out there talking about this issue plenty over the last several months. But it's no coincidence that this is coming exactly three weeks to go until ballots have to be cast in these midterm elections. And abortion rights are playing a pretty prominent role all across the country.

MARTINEZ: All right. So how has abortion rights been used in these elections, and has that focus made a difference?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, it's really changed so much in these elections. It's become Democrats' sharpest line of attack against Republicans since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in June, which overturned Roe - that had guaranteed the right to an abortion in this country. It's been so salient for Democrats because people were overwhelmingly opposed to the outright overturning of Roe.

Now, we have seen Republicans and Democrats take some liberties in ads in many places. They're accusing the other of being extremists. And if you follow these ads, it seems like every candidate either wants no restrictions or no exceptions, even when that's actually not true in lots of cases. But overall, the divide is pretty clear between most Democrats and Republicans. And for Democrats, it's really been energizing. You know, they've seen huge sums of money and activism go into campaigns and a big surge of enthusiasm. When you combine that with how much Republicans were already fired up with them out of power, all signs here are really pointing to a record turnout for this midterm election.

MARTINEZ: I know polls can be tough to trust, but they do continue to show that Americans list inflation as their top concern. So could Democratic candidates then be making a mistake and leaning too much into the abortion messaging?

MONTANARO: Yeah, and that's pretty consistent across the board. And it's something that has worried some Democrats, especially in those swing districts. People like Elissa Slotkin, congresswoman in Michigan, have tried to make a point of talking about what she and other Democrats have done, and here's something she said in a recent debate about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELISSA SLOTKIN: I authored a bill that said we should suspend the federal gas tax, pressured the president to open up the strategic national reserves because gas under - price of gas underlies so much of that inflation. And then taking costs off people's books - right? - passing prescription drug legislation that starts in January that lowers the price of insulin, of drugs in general, for anyone on Medicare. So it's not perfect. If there was a silver bullet on inflation, it would have been fired.

MONTANARO: Yeah, so there's - the problem there is that it's difficult to make a positive case on inflation when there aren't easy fixes. And Democrats control White House - the White House and Congress. We know presidents get far more credit and far more blame for the economy than they deserve. And people are in a very sour mood right now. Seventy percent of people in our last poll said that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and voters are saying they trust Republicans more on the economy. That makes it much easier for Republicans to simply blame Democrats, especially in those swing districts, most of which are in center-right places.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.