At first, outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki seemed to realize she was entering a political minefield. Almost immediately after Thursday’s press briefing began, she was asked about President Biden’s thoughts on angry protests planned at Supreme Court justices’ homes and churches over the anticipated ruling overturning federal law legalizing abortion.
A reporter wanted to know Biden’s views on law enforcement authorities making plans to respond to violent protests in the wake of the leaked draft opinion rolling back two landmark decisions that guarantee the right to abortion nationwide.
The veteran White House communications adviser, who just hours earlier announced that Karine Jean-Pierre would replace her in a matter of days, provided an important lesson to her successor. She made sure the press corps knew that Biden understands and shares the anger that abortion advocates are feeling this week.
“For all those women, men, others who feel outraged, who feel scared, who feel concerned, he hears them, he shares that concern and that horror of what he saw in that draft opinion,” she said.
Only after establishing that Biden feels their pain did Psaki call for the protests to remain peaceful. “We should not be resorting to violence in any way, shape or form,” she said.
But the questions kept on coming. After Biden earlier in the week called Trump supporters the “most extreme political organization that’s existed” in recent U.S. history, Fox News’ Peter Doocy wanted to know what the president thought of one liberal activist group releasing a map of the homes of Supreme Court justices for a “walk-by Wednesday” demonstration.
Are those progressive activists “extreme?” Doocy asked.
“Peaceful protest? No. Peaceful protests are not extreme,” Psaki said flatly.
“I think the president’s view is there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across the country about what they saw in that document,” she said.
What does Biden think of vandalism already occurring against one Catholic church in Colorado? Boulder’s Sacred Heart of Mary church had “my body, my choice” scrawled across its front doors in spray paint earlier this week. “We don’t condone vandalism,” she replied blandly without aggressively denouncing it.
After nearly a year and a half of Biden and Democrats blaming Donald Trump and many of his Republican supporters for inciting a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, the lukewarm response was too much for many conservatives.
“President Biden knows this is dangerous, and he ought to have the guts to say it,” Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement. Psaki minimizing the doxxing of Supreme Court justices as “a lot of passion” “doesn’t cut it,” he continued.
“This isn’t how adults act,” he said. “This isn’t how American self-government works.”
Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, further blamed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for standing on the Supreme Court steps during an abortion rights rally in 2020 and calling out Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh for their arguments in a major abortion case.
“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the prices,” Schumer said in early March 2020. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.
The conservative blowback against Schumer was fierce and furious. The National Review labeled Schumer a “thug.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a same-day statement slamming Schumer’s remarks as “astonishing, reckless and completely irresponsible.”
Sasse also put at least some of the blame doxxing of high court justices squarely at Schumer’s feet. “Don’t pretend this is an isolated incident,” he said. “Two years ago, Chuck Schumer stood on the Supreme Court steps and spat threats at Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. For months progressive partisans have worked to de-legitimize the court, and now activists are doxxing justices’ homes.”
CatholicVote, a conservative advocacy group independent of the Catholic Church, issued a statement calling on Biden and other elected Catholic leaders to publicly condemn the shadowy left-wing group calling on protesters to target Catholic churches, disrupt mass on Mother’s Day, and demonstrate outside the homes of Supreme Court justices.
Denouncing the planned protests, as “vile intimidation tactics” that threaten the safety of priests, parishioners and justices, the group said Biden frequently alludes to his Catholic faith when it is “convenient.”
“President Biden must immediately and forcibly condemn these domestic terrorist threats. Anti-Catholic zealots are plotting to intimidate and harass Catholics across the country, along with justices and their families,” Catholic Vote president Brian Burch said. “This country was built on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The President of the United States must stand up for both.”
Others on the right immediately began scrutinizing those behind the doxxing and questioning their connections to other liberal groups and their funding. Ruth Sent Us, the activist group urging people to protest the high court’s anticipated decision, is named for the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Conservatives scorned the name, pointing out that Ginsburg placed a premium on civility and respect.
Liberal dark-money group Demand Justice, the left’s most active judicial group, has spent the last few years pushing for court-packing, ending the filibuster, and aggressively urging Justice Stephen Breyer to retire so that Biden could appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court. The group has strong Biden ties. Psaki previously worked there, along with Paige Herwig, who led the White House search process for a nominee to succeed Breyer.
Carrie Severino, a former clerk for Thomas and president of the conservative Judicial Network, pointed out on Twitter that Ruth Sent Us is offering stipends on its website, funded by an unknown source, for those assisting with “peaceful protests.” The Judicial Network and the Federalist Society, which had close ties to the Trump administration, are frequent targets of liberal critics for their own dark-money anonymous funding.
“Who exactly is paying for these stipends?” Severino asked, noting that the Ruth Sent Us website links to several different left-wing organizations, including Strike for Choice, which notes ties to Black Lives Matter, Code Pink, Women’s March SF, Kavanaugh Off Our Court, and Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.
Severino noted in the same Twitter thread that during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, a representative from the liberal activist group Center for Democracy Action “confirmed that her group had coordinated a plan to disrupt the hearings that included offering lodging to traveling protesters and ‘jail and bail support’ if necessary.” The CDA reportedly worked with other advocacy groups, including the Women’s March, Ultraviolet, and NARAL, to urge supporters to protest the Judiciary Committee proceedings. Capitol Police arrested 70 people for outbursts and disruptions during just one day of the Kavanaugh hearings.
“The parallels between this planned protest and the disgusting antics we saw from left-wing dark-money groups during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are striking,” Severino tweeted.
The Capital Research Center, a conservative organization that tracks money in politics, said Ruth Sent Us popped up so quickly “like so many leftist ‘dark-money’ groups do” that it’s just beginning to research their funding. (CRC helped expose Arabella Advisors, a liberal-dark money network of groups that spent more than $1 billion electing Biden and other Democratic causes in recent years.)
“Their announced tactics of protesting at churches, and possibly even attempting to intimidate the Justices themselves at their private residences, is reminiscent of tactics employed in the recent past by better-known leftist ‘dark-money’ groups that organized protests during Justice Bret Kavanaugh’s confirmation and led calls to pack the Supreme Court,” Kristen Eastlick, CRC’s senior vice president, told RealClearPolitics. “We don’t know if these efforts are linked, but we’d not be surprised to discover some affiliation – even if it’s only ideological – between them.”
Other conservative judicial activists are pointing to a federal law barring “pickets or parades” near a courthouse or a judge’s home with the “intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror witness or court officer….”
When Doocy pressed Psaki on whether Biden cares whether protesters are planning to gather outside justices’ private residences, she tried to sidestep the question. “I don’t have an official U.S. government position on where people protest,” she said.
“Really?” Mike Davis, a former Gorsuch law clerk and the chief counsel for nominations on the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted. “How about Title 19, Section 1507 of the United States Code?”
Meanwhile, Congress is stepping in to provide greater protections for high court justices. Sens. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat close to Biden, have introduced the “Supreme Court Policy Parity Act” to provide greater law enforcement protections to the justices and their families. The bill would extend security protection to justices’ families, give greater arrest authority to the police assigned to the high court and make obstructing or impeding those police a crime.
Cornyn, during a Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday, called the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion “an attack against the independence” of the U.S. court system, the U.S. government’s “crown jewel.”
“That’s the reason why we go through this laborious process of advice and consent for federal judges – to protect that independence,” he said. “And it’s not just an attack against the independence of the judiciary, this risks violence against members of the Supreme Court and their families.”
“We can’t stoop to the level of the mob – we have to stand up for what we believe to be right,” he concluded.