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Kate Bedingfield in the White House briefing room

White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield speaks during a briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2022. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

White House 'Some Activists' Comment Roils Progressive Abortion Rights Champions

"Republicans refer to their most involved voters as 'the base,' and deliver for them, while Democrats refer to theirs as 'some activists' and ignore them. This is why they lose."

Jon Queally

Comments by White House communications director Kate Bedingfield over the weekend have touched a fresh nerve among progressives already frustrated by the Biden administration's tepid response to the right-wing attack on abortion rights including the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade last month.

"The right rampages and the leadership of the Dems wage war on the left."

Quoted in a detailed piece of reporting by the Washington Post, Bedingfield referred dismissively to those frustrated by the administration's slow and less-than-forceful response to the Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

"Joe Biden's goal in responding to Dobbs is not to satisfy some activists who have been consistently out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party," Bedingfield said in on-the-record remarks to the Post on Saturday.

The White House's goal, she continued, is "to deliver help to women who are in danger and assemble a broad-based coalition to defend a woman's right to choose now, just as he assembled such a coalition to win during the 2020 campaign."

It was the phrase "some activists" that many on the progressive left recognized as a specific dig to those who have loudly advocated for an emergency-level response and openly criticized Biden and his lieutenants for failing to adequately acknowledge the level of the crisis.

"What activists are asking for isn't different from what the average voter is looking for—leadership," tweeted Shauna Thomas, co-founder of the women's rights group Ultra Violet, in response to the comment. "To trust that the President is doing everything in his power to save lives and protect our rights. No one is asking Biden to do the impossible. We’re asking him to do the maximum."

Thomas specifically pushed back on the suggestion by Bedingfield that a more forceful response to protection of abortion rights wasn't somehow "mainstream"—a claim belied consistently by public polling.

Others, like Rolling Stone journalist Noah Schachtman, argued that Bedingfield's comment should not be considered a casual comment taken out of context.

"This is not a blind quote from some random staffer," said Schachtman. "It's on the record, from Biden's top communications aide. So you can safely assume that shanking pro-choice activists is the White House's official position."

Since the Dobbs ruling was announced on June 24—and previously once a leaked draft of the ruling was published many weeks earlier—progressives have repeatedly asked for the Biden administration to forge a forceful response that would include declaration of health emergency and a robust set of policies and a political program designed to help impacted woman and other pregnant people while laying the legislative groundwork to codify the protections afforded by Roe into federal law once and for all.

Critics of Bedingfield said the mindset exhibited by her comment is not just offensive to many fighting tirelessly for abortion rights and reproductive care, but signals a serious and potentially devastating political blind spot for the Democratic Party come the crucial midterm elections this year.

"Republicans refer to their most involved voters as 'the base,' and deliver for them, while Democrats refer to theirs as 'some activists' and ignore them," said Monica Keane, an independent researcher, on social media. "This is why they lose."

"Such smug arrogance," said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton University, in response to the White House comment.

"Biden apparently has no idea how his moribund, left for dead, campaign actually won in 2020," Taylor added. "The right rampages and the leadership of the Dems wage war on the left."

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