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Democrats attack Trump over report that he favors a 16-week abortion ban

President Biden and other Democrats moved quickly Friday to criticize former president Donald Trump over a report that he prefers a 16-week national abortion ban with a few exceptions, underscoring the extent to which Democrats hope to seize on the issue in November.

Biden’s campaign said the story from the New York Times confirmed their long-held suspicions that Trump would pursue a federal ban after appointing the Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. Trump’s campaign called the report “fake news.”

“Now, after being the one responsible for taking away women’s freedom … Trump is running scared,” Biden said in a statement. “He’s afraid the women of America are going to hold him responsible for taking away their rights and endangering their rights at the ballot box in November. Which is exactly what’s going to happen.”

The Times reported that Trump has privately told associates he “likes the idea of a 16-week national abortion ban with three exceptions, in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.” Trump’s campaign swiftly pushed back against the story.

“As President Trump has stated, he would sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with,” Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement, without elaborating on such a deal.

Trump’s team was frustrated by the Times story and said no decision had been made on a national ban. One person who has spoken with Trump on several occasions about abortion said the former president repeatedly said he was not going to be tied down to a specific number of weeks. Another person who met with Trump on the issue late last year said he suggested a 16-week ban as a potential plan, but was noncommittal to backing any sort of ban. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

“He was clear with us when he met with us that he wasn’t going to let them tie him down,” the first person said.

In the meantime, Democrats made the most of the Times story. In addition to Biden’s statement, his campaign held an afternoon call with reporters where his campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, proclaimed that Trump “just came clean.” State parties and Democratic officials in battleground states — including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — tore into Trump while highlighting the Times report.

The rapid reaction from Democrats showed just how much they see abortion as a winning issue this year, especially as Republicans continue to look for a united message and suffer electoral defeats since the Roe decision. Abortion was one of Democrats’ leading issues in a special election for a New York House seat that they captured Tuesday.

A prominent Democrat with knowledge of the Biden campaign’s strategy — who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions — said they plan to attack Trump on abortion relentlessly this fall, particularly with news clips where he praises the end of Roe, and view it as one of the campaign’s top three issues.

Since the overturning of Roe, Trump has boasted about selecting the judges who helped make the decision, which returned the issue of abortion rights to the states. At the same time, he has publicly demurred on the question of a federal ban and sought to distance himself from some GOP-led states that have passed bans without exceptions. Trump faced some criticism when he attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for signing a six-week ban while DeSantis was competing in the GOP primary, but most of the antiabortion community has continued to support him.

Trump has previously emphasized his support for the three exceptions, suggesting the GOP should campaign on them to mitigate its losses. The former president has mocked candidates by name who didn’t say they were for exceptions and has instructed Republicans that they should bring up exceptions before anything else when talking about the issue.

Mini Timmaraju, president and chief executive of Reproductive Freedom for All, told reporters on the Biden campaign call that the exceptions proposed by Trump are “designed not to work, and they’re impossible to enforce in these incredibly draconian states with these extreme bans.” Timmaraju added that Trump was “trying to masquerade as a moderate.”

“We are going to make him own every inch of this crisis he created,” Timmaraju said.

Conservative and antiabortion leaders were taken aback by the Times story because they had been told by Trump he was not going to be tied down and were trying to figure out on Friday if his position had changed, according to two people in the movement.

“He is thinking about a general election,” one Trump adviser said, when describing why Trump has not taken a position on abortion.

“We strongly agree with President Trump on protecting babies from abortion violence at 16 weeks when they feel pain,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Trump has repeatedly talked about abortion with advisers and has been pitched on a 15-week ban by figures such as former Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). But because he knows it is a tricky political issue, he usually avoids it in public and calls it the “A-word” in private.

Additionally, people close to him said he did not feel pressure from the right to support a national ban so far. He has consistently dominated the GOP primary, where former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley is his last serious opponent but still faces long odds.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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