The Supreme Court puts the GOP’s abortion dilemma back in the spotlight: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national political reporter Sahil Kapur outlines how the abortion pill case at the Supreme Court is making it difficult for Republicans to turn the page on the issue. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki breaks down Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s general election poll numbers.

The Supreme Court puts the GOP’s abortion dilemma back in the spotlight

By Sahil Kapur

National Republican operatives want to turn the page on the abortion debate, seeing it as a political loser in 2024. But reality keeps intervening.

The latest flare-up came Tuesday when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom that challenged the FDA’s decision to make the abortion pill mifepristone widely available.

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The justices appeared skeptical of the plaintiffs’ argument, but politically it opened up yet another battle in the ongoing war over abortion access in the U.S. since five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. It follows intense partisan fights over state-level bans, an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that threatened access to in vitro fertilization, and a long-running debate about federal abortion restrictions.

President Joe Biden, speaking in North Carolina on Tuesday, drew attention to the case and described it as a reason voters should elect him and other Democrats this fall.

“Just this morning, the Supreme Court heard a case to gut access to medication that was approved by the FDA 20 years ago to give women a choice,” Biden said. “Folks, if America sends me a Congress that are Democrats, I promise you, Kamala [Harris] and I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again.”

Other Democrats pointed out that the House Republican majority sought to advance a host of anti-abortion provisions in the government funding package, including limits on mifepristone. They were blocked by Democrats, who control the Senate.

Donald Trump and most Republicans stayed largely silent on the Supreme Court arguments over mifepristone. But the leaders of their anti-abortion base rooted for the plaintiffs and urged the justices to curtail access to the pill.

“Today I was proud to stand with women harmed by abortion drugs courageously sharing their stories, and with the doctors caring for them, in contrast to the abortion industry that leaves women to suffer alone,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “They all know the true cost of the FDA’s recklessness first-hand. Together we are standing up to say #WomensHealthMatters and the FDA must do its job. We urge the Supreme Court to uphold safeguards for women and girls.”

It’s an illustration of the dilemma the GOP faces — caught between a passionate base of voters who want to restrict abortion, and the majority of the country who want it to be mostly legal.

Will RFK Jr. hurt Biden or Trump more? Polls paint a hazy picture.

Analysis by Steve Kornacki

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s selection of attorney Nicole Shanahan as his running mate will allow the independent presidential candidate to accelerate his efforts to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states — and cause him to loom even larger as a wild card in the general election.

Democrats in particular are sounding the alarm that he could siphon enough votes from Biden to clear Trump’s path to a White House return. The available poll numbers, however, indicate uncertainty around the impact Kennedy might have.

Our latest national NBC News poll from January measured general attitudes toward Kennedy. Overall, he was viewed positively by 28% of voters and negatively by 27%, with the rest saying they had no strong feelings. But there was a significant partisan divide:

It could be argued, based on these numbers, that there’s a deeper well of potential support for Kennedy among Republicans than among Democrats — making him more of a threat to Trump than Biden. Then again, this comparatively high level of goodwill toward Kennedy among Republicans could just reflect a reaction to the public attacks on the independent contender from major Democratic voices, making him a sympathetic character to GOP voters who — nonetheless — remain loyal to Trump.

Complicating the issue even further is that there just aren’t many recent national polls that have tested both a two-way contest between Biden and Trump and a three-way race with Kennedy in it. But some battleground state polls have, with mixed results. For instance, three surveys taken in Michigan within the last several weeks all show a different Kennedy effect:

As you can see, in one poll (Quinnipiac), Trump’s advantage grows slightly when Kennedy is included. In another (CNN), Trump’s lead shrinks slightly. And in the third (Bloomberg/Morning Consult), there’s no change at all. One caveat: Another independent candidate, Cornel West, was included as an option along with Kennedy in these polls, making a precise measurement of any Kennedy-specific effect impossible. But West’s support is only in the low single digits.

That said, both the Biden and Trump campaigns would probably be justified in fretting about Kennedy’s candidacy. In 2020, Biden won the states of Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin by a combined total of just 42,918 votes, a fraction of a point in each one. Had Trump carried them instead, he would have forced an Electoral College tie that likely would have been broken in his favor by the U.S. House.

In other words, even a very slight Kennedy effect, one way or the other, could prove decisive in the states that will swing this election.

Read more from Alex Seitz-Wald on Kennedy’s new running mate here →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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