Major cities across the United States and as far overseas as Perth, Australia have become stages for massive displays of public opposition to the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. It's one of only a few instances of SCOTUS abridging people’s rights in its entire history, taking away a woman’s constitutional right to abortion that had been protected for nearly 50 years. The President and Speaker of the House appeared to match the urgency of their constituents through statements on the day of the ruling. Biden’s trademark straight talk seemed appropriate for the moment: “with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in the nation are now at risk.” Pelosi framed the ruling with Manichean intensity, calling it the completion of the“GOP’s dark and extreme goal.”

While ostensibly acknowledging the need for action, Pelosi and Biden used their responses to put the onus back on their voters, as both emphasized that the issue is “on the ballot” in Congressional elections this November.

Such a plea to the constituency might appear to be a sensible request from leadership: one path to overturning this decision is indeed to pass legislation through Congress, and for that you need the right representatives and senators there to do it. But this logic fails in a couple of key aspects. First is the failure to address productive actions that could be taken well before the elections, and second is that the Democratic voting base has been told this before on other issues and held up its end of the bargain, while leadership has not.

Democratic stalwarts want action, leadership demurs

Numerous measures could protect women’s health care despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, and are not dependent on elections in November to be implemented.

Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has called for congressional Democrats to do away with the filibuster in the Senate, which essentially makes it impossible to pass any legislation without a 60-vote majority. Scrapping it would pave the way for turning Roe v. Wade into law, as well as numerous Biden-era priorities that have been stymied by this Jim-Crow-era technicality.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has gone further, spearheading a proposal that the executive branch use federal lands to protect the right to abortion in states where it is otherwise denied. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has expressed approval for the Senator’s plan, and has set her sights on SCOTUS itself, calling for expanding the court and mulling over the possibility of impeaching justices that misrepresented their positions on Roe v.

Wade during the confirmation process: “I believe lying under oath is an impeachable offense […] and I believe that this is something that should be very seriously considered.”

In the face of these (appropriately) strong reactions to last week’s ruling, calling for actions with varying degrees of immediacy and scope, the Biden administration has largely thrown water on all of it. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has come out against a filibuster carve-out for abortion, against expanding the court (never mind impeaching justices), and just today came out against Warren’s federal-lands proposal, citing “dangerous ramifications.” The string of negative answers to proposals is frustrating many in the leftist mediasphere.

“What does Biden ‘agree’ with doing?” asked MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan on social media. "What does the leader of this country want to do to stop the increasingly fascistic assault on our democratic institutions and basic rights?"

While Nancy Pelosi has not come out with a similar string of negative responses to proposals, she has engaged in PR that come off as hollow and out of touch. In her initial response to the ruling, she shared a poem by Ehud Manor that apparently spoke to her in this dire moment – perhaps it would have had more impact had she not read exactly the same poem in response to January 6th insurrection last year. The speaker of the House later sang God Bless America with a dozen or so of her colleagues on the steps of the Capitol.

In a now-infamous video of the event, onlookers heard the sound of protesters in the distance on the steps of the Supreme Court (that’s where AOC was that day).

Déjà vu with the $15 minimum wage

Returning to the “vote harder” rhetoric proffered by Pelosi and Biden towards the Democratic constituency, it should be noted that we went through this just a moment ago in political terms, with the $15 minimum wage. The hike to $15 was supposedly a priority for candidate Biden during the 2020 presidential election. It was even a major talking point during the Georgia elections for Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as voters were bombarded with messaging from the campaigns and the Democratic Party at large that they must give Biden these allies in the Senate to pass important measures, namely the minimum wage hike and stimulus checks.

Even though raising the minimum wage is generally considered a left-leaning measure, there is evidence of broad cross-party appeal: Biden lost the state of Florida in the 2020 presidential election while a $15 minimum wage passed on the same ballot in that state. The same thing happened to former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill when she lost her seat in Missouri to Republican Josh Hawley in 2018. Indeed, support for the $15 minimum wage and abortion are roughly the same, both above 60% according to Pew Research.

So, after campaigning on the issue as a presidential candidate and using it to rally support in Senate elections, where’s the nationwide $15 minimum wage Biden promised? The measure died in the Senate due to the parliamentarian, who ruled on a technicality that it could not be attached to a bill being passed through the process of reconciliation.

That people should be made to believe that the parliamentarian – a Senate staffer who can be fired and replaced – is a serious obstacle to any policy is nothing short of insulting. When the parliamentarian under George W. Bush opposed tax cuts for the rich on similarly technical grounds, Republicans simply fired him and replaced him with one who would tow the line. It’s just that simple. As far as passing the minimum wage hike in the Senate with a conventional 50+1 vote margin by seeking a carve-out in the filibuster or eliminating it altogether, that too was opposed then by the White House, as it is now for abortion.

Moment of truth for Democratic leadership

These let-downs have consequences.

Some activists who canvassed on behalf of Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia, relaying hose campaign promises, went to the press in the aftermath saying that they felt guilty, like they had lied to constituents faces. How many times can a major party bait its constituency and activist base like this and not pull through? With a track record like this, on what basis should the party’s base keep their trust in Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi?

While it is promising to see numerous well-known Democrats reacting strongly to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, it is deeply troubling that none of that strength is found at the leadership level. A young activist protesting in front of the Supreme Court on Saturday was interviewed by MSNBC and lashed out at the Biden administration’s “outrageous” attempt at fundraising on this issue via text message: "They have had multiple opportunities to codify Roe into law over the past 20, 30, 40, 50 years, and they haven't done it. If they're going to keep campaigning on this point, they should actually do something about it." A clipped version of the interview on Twitter currently has more than 6 million views.