Biden’s abortion rights rally in Virginia beset by repeated protests over his handling of Gaza

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris rallied voters in Virginia during their first joint campaign appearance on Tuesday, seeking to emphasize the stakes for reproductive rights in the 2024 election.

“The Supreme Court did what it had never done before,” Biden said at the Manassas rally, which came one day after what would have been the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which had established a constitutional right to abortion. “They ripped away a fundamental constitutional right that was in place for nearly 50 years.”

“Let there be no mistake: The person most responsible for taking away this freedom in America is Donald Trump,” Biden added.

But as Biden sought to reinforce his administration’s biggest selling point against the Republican front-runner, its biggest weakness with young voters was on full display in the crowd, as protesters who oppose his support for Israel in its war against Hamas repeatedly interrupted the president.

The interruptions began as Biden was delivering his first line. A male protester unfurled a Palestinian flag and shouted, “Genocide Joe — how many Palestinian children have to die?” The president paused his speech and looked toward the man.

A second and third protester followed shortly after, prompting chants from the crowd of “Four more years!”

After a fourth protester, Biden broke from his prepared remarks to say, “They care deeply.” And at protester five Biden acknowledged, “This is going to go on for a while.”

All told, the president was interrupted about a dozen times. Eventually, the crowd urged Biden to keep speaking, and the president ignored further outbursts from the crowd.

The hectic rally and Biden’s seemingly futile attempts to keep the crowd focused on reproductive rights represent a new normal for the president, who has repeatedly been interrupted by protesters criticizing his administration’s stance on Israel and his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

He was also interrupted by protesters while delivering a speech on democracy near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and while speaking at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this month.

He’s often appeared conciliatory toward those protesters. “I understand the passion and I’ve been quietly working – been quietly working with the Israeli government to reduce – significantly get out of Gaza,” Biden said as the protesters were led out of his South Carolina remarks.

But still, the protests provide a window into Biden’s potential problems among young voters, Arab Americans and the most progressive flank of the Democratic Party.

At the rally, Harris also delivered a stark warning on abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a "Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally" at George Mason University on January 23, 2024, in Manassas, Virginia. - Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a "Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally" at George Mason University on January 23, 2024, in Manassas, Virginia. - Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“We all know 19 months ago, the highest court in our land – the court of Thurgood (Marshall) and RBG – took a constitutional right from the people of America, from the women of America, and in the 19 months since, in states across our nation, extremists have proposed and passed laws that criminalize doctors and punish women, laws that make no exception even for rape and incest,” she said.

The vice president blasted Trump for his role in gutting abortion rights, warning even more restrictive measures would follow if Republicans have their way.

“Across our nation, women are suffering – and let us be very clear about who was responsible: Former President Trump hand picked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe,” she said.

“He intended for them to take your freedoms, he is the architect of this health care crisis, and he is not done — and the extremists are not done,” she said.

Looking forward, Harris pledged the Biden administration’s support for safeguarding abortion access.

“We have a president who has a vision for our future, a future where reproductive freedom is protected for every woman, every person in America,” she said. “And we have a president who has – and this is so critically important – the compassion, as well as the determination and skill, to make our vision for our country and our future real.”

The Biden campaign is banking on abortion rights being one of the pivotal issues driving voters out against the GOP nominee in November. Nearly two-thirds of Americans polled after the 2022 decision that overturned Roe said they disagreed with the decision, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS in the decision’s aftermath.

Biden’s campaign has also been homing in on recent comments made by Trump taking credit for the decision that overturned Roe. The former president faces a crucial night Tuesday in New Hampshire in his two-person race against Nikki Haley for the Republican nomination.

Harris, the administration’s point person on abortion rights, kicked off a “reproductive freedoms tour” this week with a Monday stop in Wisconsin. She is expected to travel “across the country” to hold a number of events bringing together “thousands of people,” her office previously said.

The campaign began hitting the airwaves in battleground states this week with ads featuring emotional testimony from a Texas woman who had to travel out of state to seek an abortion because of a state law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“Donald Trump is the reason that more than 1 in 3 American women of reproductive age don’t have the freedom to make their own health care decisions. Now, he and MAGA Republicans are running to go even further if they retake the White House,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the Biden campaign manager. “In 2024, a vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is a vote to restore Roe, and a vote for Donald Trump is a vote to ban abortion across the country.”

CNN’s MJ Lee, Arlette Saenz and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.

This story and headline have been updated with additional reporting.

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