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Abortion to be 'major plank' of Harris's midterms pitch

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Before Vice President Harris wrapped up remarks last week about the Supreme Court's repeal of Roe v. Wade, she offered a warning: "This is not over."    

In the coming weeks, Harris will be ratcheting up the contrast between Democrats and Republicans on the heels of the high court overturning the decades-old opinion that said abortion was a constitutional right, as she hits the road to try to help Democrats ahead of the midterms.  

The effort was in the works before the Supreme Court decision, but the message on Roe will be a big part of Harris's effort, sources tell The Hill.   

"That will be a major plank," said one source familiar with Harris's strategy on the high court's ruling, adding that the vice president will offer contrasts on other big policy issues too.   

Harris sat for a one-on-one interview with CNN on Monday — her first since the ruling came down — during which she expressed shock and outrage at the decision and said she believed the Supreme Court was on a path to reverse decisions on same-sex marriage and contraception.  

"I definitely believe this is not over," she said of Justice Clarence Thomas's opinion suggesting the court should revisit those decisions. "I think he just said the quiet part out loud." 

The amplified messaging from Harris comes as Democrats are deeply worried about Republicans winning back both chambers of Congress amid President Biden's anemic approval ratings. Talk that Biden might not choose to run for reelection has also picked up among Democrats.   

Harris would be a major White House contender if Biden chose not to run, so the new effort also serves as an opportunity for the vice president to improve her own political stock.  

"If she steps out there between now and the midterm elections and there are significant victories that Democrats claim, she can certainly take credit for it and it would be a great boon for her national standing," said Basil Smikle, a political strategist and the director of the public policy program at Hunter College.   

Harris has already begun trying out the strategy in recent appearances, including at a dinner earlier this month for the South Carolina Democratic Party.   

"As Democrats, we fight for a future where anyone can start and grow a business and where workers can earn a fair wage and are treated with respect; a future where all Americans can live and love without government interference, and yes, where every woman has the liberty and freedom to make decisions about her own body," she said to applause from the Palmetto State crowd. "These are the values Democrats stand for. And let's be clear: And so much of this is what the Republican Party stands against. Think about it."  

At the dinner, Harris ticked off a list of policy issues from pandemic relief to the extension of the child tax credit, highlighting that "not one Republican" voted for those measures.  

The vice president publicly rebuked the leaked draft ruling suggesting the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe.   

During a speech at an EMILY's List convention the day after Politico reported on the leaked draft in early May, Harris accused Republicans of weaponizing the law to restrict women's rights.   

"How dare they!" Harris told the crowd, a line that The Hill previously reported was personally added to the speech by the vice president.   

The vice president is expected to continue to highlight what Democrats stand for and the values they stand for, a source familiar with her strategy said. And she'll discuss how the values manifest themselves.   

Harris has also headlined a handful of listening sessions with Democratic attorneys general, abortion providers and other stakeholders in advance of the ruling.  

Still, the White House has been focused on other crises, like soaring gas and food prices and Russia's war in Ukraine, and also made a point to avoid discussing plans to respond publicly to the Supreme Court opinion before the final document was issued.   

Behind the scenes, administration officials have conferred with state lawmakers, abortion groups and others to gain a better understanding of the laws on the books in various states. The White House has offered few concrete actions thus far that it plans to take to help access to abortion despite the flurry of state restrictions going into effect. 

Democratic strategists, donors and lawmakers say they have wanted to hear more of the message that Harris delivered on Friday.  

"Why wasn't there more of that?" one Democratic strategist questioned on Monday. "Why didn't she continue to pound the drum? Imagine how powerful that would have been coming from her."   

Smikle said that the White House could have done more to publicly lay out the implications of the ruling during the time between the leaked draft and the final opinion, though he noted that the behind-the-scenes work gearing up for the ruling was also important.   

Smikle said that Harris would be an effective messenger for Democrats to talk about the urgency of the upcoming elections as they relate to abortion rights. But he also called on the White House to empower new and younger Democratic voices to speak out on the issue in Congress and at the state level.   

"There has to be a steady drumbeat, a steady and protracted sense of urgency going into the midterms," he said.

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