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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Trump boasts ‘We broke Roe v Wade’ as abortion dogs GOP election hopes

Donald Trump attends a joint press conference with the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday.
Donald Trump attends a joint press conference with the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Facing the press alongside the House speaker, fellow Republican Mike Johnson, Donald Trump bragged: “We broke Roe v Wade.”

The former president made the stark admission about his dominant role in attacks on abortion rights at the end of a week in which the rightwing Arizona state supreme court ruled that an 1864 law imposing a near-total ban could go back into effect.

Abortion rights were removed at the federal level in 2022 when a US supreme court to which Trump appointed three justices overturned Roe, which had stood since 1973. The issue has fueled Democratic wins at the ballot box ever since. This week, the Arizona ruling sent Republicans scrambling to minimise damage.

Trump repeated his contention that the issue should rest with the states and there is no need for a national ban, a demand of the US’s political right. But he could not resist a boast on which his opponents are sure to seize.

“We broke Roe v Wade,” Trump said. “Nobody thought was possible. We gave it back to the states and the states are working very brilliantly, in some cases conservative, in some cases not conservative, but they’re working. And it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

“Every … real legal scholar wanted to have it go back to the states,” Trump claimed without offering evidence. “Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. And we were able to do that … and now the states are working their way through it.

“And you’re gonna, you’re having some very, very beautiful harmony, to be honest with you. You have, well, you have some cases like Arizona that went back to like 1864 or something like that. And a judge made a ruling, but that’s going to be changed by government. They’re going to be changing that. I disagree with that.”

At the time of Trump’s remarks, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, was speaking in Arizona, hammering home Democratic attacks on Republican threats to reproductive rights. Her key message: Trump is to blame.

“And just minutes ago, standing beside Speaker Johnson, Donald Trump just said the collection of state bans is, quote: ‘working the way it is supposed to’,” Harris said. “And as much harm as he has already caused, a second Trump term would be even worse.”

Trump and Johnson appeared together at a time of intense legal jeopardy for the former president and great political danger for the House speaker that meant their intended message – a supposed need to focus on the canard of “election integrity” – seemed guaranteed to be drowned out.

In New York on Monday, Trump will face trial on 34 of 88 pending criminal charges. The first ever criminal trial involving a former president will concern hush-money payments to an adult film star who claimed an affair.

In Washington, Johnson must manage Congress with a tiny majority under pressure from an unruly Republican House caucus dominated by the pro-Trump right. The Georgia extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene has filed a motion to remove him.

Opening the press conference at his Mar-a-Lago home, Trump exhibited his signature rhetoric on immigration, increasingly dehumanizing and vicious.

Johnson said Republicans would seek to introduce legislation to “require proof of citizenship to vote”, claiming that if “hundreds of thousands” of migrants cast votes, it could affect the result of the elections.

In reality, non-citizens voting is not even close to a problem.

Some cities allow non-citizens to vote in municipal and non-federal polls. But non-citizen voting in federal elections is already illegal under a 1996 law. Offenders can be fined and jailed for up to a year. Deportation is possible.

The Bipartisan Policy Center points to research by groups on the right and left which says non-citizen voting is exceptionally rare, saying: “Any instance of illegally cast ballots by non-citizens has been investigated by the appropriate authorities, and there is no evidence that these votes – or any other instances of voter fraud – have been significant enough to impact any election’s outcome.”

Nonetheless, Johnson has long shown willingness to back Trump’s claims about elections regardless of reality, playing a key role in supporting the former president’s attempts to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden in 2020.

In a recent memoir, the anti-Trump Republican Liz Cheney said Johnson “played bait-and-switch” with colleagues to get them to support his legal efforts to have key state results thrown out while misrepresenting himself as a constitutional lawyer.

Johnson said Cheney was “not presenting an accurate portrayal”. His legal work failed but even after the deadly January 6 attack on Congress by Trump supporters in early 2021, he was among 147 Republicans who voted to object to results in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

On Friday, a statement released by the Trump campaign said Johnson had “agreed to hold a series of public committee hearings over the next two months … in advance of potential legislation to further safeguard our elections from interference”.

Subjects of supposed concern included “mail-in voting processes and mail-ballot handling”, “voter registration list maintenance and how states will … prevent illegal immigrants and noncitizens from voting in the 2024 presidential election”; and “general preparations” for Trump’s rematch with Biden.

Reporters raised other issues that have roiled Republican politics. Earlier, in Washington, Johnson oversaw passage of a bill to reauthorise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or Fisa, including a key measure that allows for warrantless surveillance of American citizens. Trump and allies opposed the renewal, arising from his complaints about investigations of Russian election interference on his behalf in the 2016 race that sent him to the White House.

Asked about the House bill, Trump said he still didn’t like Fisa and repeated his complaints about 2016. Johnson nodded behind him.

Trump also opposes new aid for Ukraine, passed by the Senate but held up in the House. Johnson has said he wants to pass aid for Ukraine – but that could cause his downfall.

At Mar-a-Lago, Trump kept the subject at arm’s length, verbally abusing Biden and claiming conflicts around the world would not have happened on his watch.

He also castigated those prosecuting him criminally, including in the hush-money trial due to start in New York on Monday, over which he also complained about the judge. He was, he said, “absolutely” willing to testify in his own defence.

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