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Week in politics: Biden urges voters to look to November elections to enact change

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

President Biden also expressed opposition to the Supreme Court ruling. He called it a product of an extreme ideology and tragic error by the court. He outlined a few steps the executive branch could take alone, like guaranteeing the ability to receive abortion medication through the mail, but said the real solution has to come with November's elections.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land. We need to elect officials who will do that. This fall, Roe is on the ballot.

DAVIS: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us to talk about how all of this might play into the midterms. Hey, Ron. Good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Sue.

DAVIS: So what do you think the effect is going to be on the election?

ELVING: Right now, with emotions and anger running high, we should think it would be an enormous factor. But the vote is months away, and for most voters, it may be just one factor among several. With gas prices, food prices, other economic concerns, we don't know which factors will seem most important four months from now. Also, there are relatively few swing states, swing districts, places where neither party has a distinct advantage. So there may be relatively few places where the abortion issue alone moves enough votes to determine the outcome. But there will be some.

DAVIS: Former President Donald Trump was very quick to take credit for this decision. He said it could only happen because of the three judges he put on the court. He has a point there.

ELVING: It's hard to deny. The three justices Trump appointed made the difference here, and they are more than likely to do so again on other issues. President Biden made that very clear in his remarks yesterday. And Hillary Clinton, if she had been president, would have chosen three very different people for the vacancies that Trump got to fill. So that was a fundamental part of his appeal to social conservatives, especially religious conservatives, in both 2016 and 2020. And it would be again in 2024 if he were to run.

DAVIS: Yeah. In another major Supreme Court decision this week, a New York state gun law was struck down. This all is happening at the same time Congress just passed the first gun legislation in a generation. President Biden signed that bill into law this morning. The country seems to be sending mixed signals here.

ELVING: Yeah, mixed signals, indeed. Conservatives on the courts are saying that they can decide such issues as the right to bear arms - expanding those rights, as you've described - nationwide. Meanwhile, Congress is trying to do something to reduce gun violence. New York's gun law that was struck down here had restricted who and why people could carry guns. It had ramifications for other blue states with similar restrictions, and those would seem harder to enforce now, even in states with long histories of such restrictions.

We have to say the congressional bipartisan gun deal was rather modest, the minimum they could do after the most recent gun massacres in Buffalo, N.Y., Uvalde, Texas, targeting grocery shoppers and schoolchildren. What we are calling the gun deal here is as much about funding mental health and school safety, but it does provide more time for background checks for people under 21 buying semi-automatic rifles and other long guns. And perhaps most important, it established that the federal government can and still thinks it will have a role to play on guns.

DAVIS: Ron, you see a conflict here in the court delivering decisions on two very controversial issues, guns and abortion, that seem to go against the will of the American people.

ELVING: That's right. And you could have argued back in 1973 when the Roe decision came down that the court was out of step with public opinion then. That point can be argued back and forth. There are certainly those people who feel that the court should completely lock out public opinion when it makes its decision and look only at the Constitution and the legislation in question. But it's been observed for a very long period of time that the Supreme Court also follows the election returns.

DAVIS: Also this week, the House January 6 committee wrapped up its first round of live hearings this month. What's your assessment of how this has played so far?

ELVING: They've made an impression - maybe stronger and deeper than expected, but hard to say whether permanent enough to affect the elections in November, let alone elections in 2024. The hearings themselves, though, have been impressive, Sue - well-presented and quite dramatic at times, relying primarily on the testimony of Republicans, people who refused to go along with Trump's effort to overturn the certified and genuine results. And many Republicans now regret that their leaders in Congress elected not to have their own voices on the panel, especially because the two Republicans who are on the panel, because Speaker Pelosi chose them, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have been highly effective, and also because the hearings are getting through to the public without much representation for the Republicans who oppose them.

DAVIS: NPR's Ron Elving - Ron, I always love talking to you. Thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Sue. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.