By supporting and signing the current version of FOCA, Obama would reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign. ~Melinda Henneberger
More to the point, he would reignite it in a way that would not be to his or the Democratic Party’s advantage, and that is particularly the case if the legislation would lead to the shutdown of just some Catholic hospitals across America. Even if the the latter did not happen, signing such a bill would feed into every hostile portrayal of him as a pro-abortion extremist (a portrayal, by the way, that is not an exaggeration of his record), and it would be exactly the sort of distraction from larger priorities that Emanuel has hinted the new administration will avoid. Whether or not Obama has already made a fool of Prof. Kmiec by promising to sign such a bill–a promise that renders absurd any hope of compromise or pragmatic problem-solving that was at the heart of Kmiec’s argument–he would assuredly be wrecking his Presidency for no good reason if he fulfilled that promise. If most people say they support Roe, even if they don’t know what they’re supporting, there is definitely not a majority in favor of such sweeping pro-abortion legislation.
Obama may be able to avoid having to decide whether or not to break his promise. As Henneberger notes earlier in the piece, just as I said in the closing days of the campaign, it is not at all certain that FOCA will pass. House members elected from marginal districts will not want the headache that voting for such legislation would inevitably bring them. This is the sort of legislation that would inspire intense grassroots opposition, and as with most issues the more vocal, focused and active side will sway many of these members in marginal districts. Bringing up such legislation for a vote would give Republican leaders an easy target and an occasion to pull away Blue Dog Democrats from the majority to deliver an early defeat to the other party. You would start seeing a media narrative of liberal overreach and establishment punditry would begin kvetching, “Where did the pragmatic, reasonable Obama agenda we saw during the transition go?” Besides, Obama’s own instincts to avoid political risk should tell him that he will profit nothing by signing this bill and will stir up intense opposition that he doesn’t need and should want to avoid. In certain cases, including this one, Obama’s desire to accommodate the status quo is preferable to the alternative.
P.S. One thing that almost all of FOCA’s co-sponsors have in common is that they come from absolutely safe Democratic seats.