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Biden campaign: Ginsburg's death only sharpens the focus

Biden reacts to death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Biden reacts to death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg 03:19

The October Surprise came early this year — but so far, at least, Joe Biden's campaign isn't worried.

The Democratic presidential campaign is not yet making any bold moves regarding the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, believing it's still too soon to discuss tactics in the wake of her surprise death Friday night and that the focus and pressure should be on Republicans and what they might to next.

Biden tweeted a link Saturday evening urging Americans to check their voter registration, writing, "Vote. Our future depends on it." 

"The Supreme Court is on the ballot. And the outcome will impact everything from health care to civil rights — affecting generations to come," Biden tweeted. 

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the campaign declared a "full lid," signaling there would be no public events or statements made by the former Vice President, who is at home in Delaware. 

That may seem odd or misguided at a moment of potential political peril for Democrats, but aides say it's consistent with how they've operated for more than 18 months — a span that has resulted with them in a lead ahead of the election.

"We've been through some high-pressure times before and we're always deliberate about how we respond and we'll do that again now. People will question our tactics and we'll do our thing," said one senior aide, not authorized to speak publicly about ongoing planning.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, talks to Supreme Court nominee Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg prior to the start of her confirmation hearing before the committee on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, July 20, 1993 in Washington. John Duricka

The aide added that Biden "is going to continue to make clear that this is on Republicans, that they shouldn't escalate this. That the fight is to keep a nominee from being seated."

The news roiled the campaign — and just about every other political campaign for federal office in America late Friday. As the news broke, a separate Biden staffer was discussing ongoing planning in a key battleground state before being told by a CBS News correspondent about the justice's death. The staffer paused and begged off the call moments later in order to determine how the campaign would proceed.

"This just makes everything even more important," the staffer said before hanging up.

The Biden campaign believes Ginsburg's death only sharpens the focus for them and supporters, believing that ultimately Americans care less about who specifically sits on the high court and more about the issues the nine justices would consider.

In the coming days, expect Democrats to redouble a campaign tactic that worked successfully for them during the 2018 midterm elections: A focus on health care, health care, health care. 

That focus on what was at the time the number one issue of concern, and other kitchen table issues, helped the party hold on to competitive seats and pick up ground in suburban Republican-leaning areas in November 2018. And with the Supreme Court set to consider the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act just a week after Election Day — specifically on protections for preexisting conditions — the focus is of even more urgency, the Biden team believes.  

Biden, who campaigned for dozens of those successful Democratic congressional candidates from swing districts in 2018, kept a similar middle-of-the-road and pro-ACA focus during the Democratic presidential primary, emerging as one of the few candidates who defended the landmark law and how it has reshaped the American health care system.

That focus "worked for Biden in the primary and a big reason he's the nominee," the senior aide said. 

Aides are reluctant to discuss what, if anything, Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris might do in the coming days in response to Ginsburg's death, but signaled plans are in the works. The campaign would not comment on how much money it has raised in the hours since the justice's death, but Democratic online fundraising site ActBlue says more than $54 million has been raised for Democratic candidates since the news broke.

Aides said that at least for now, there are no plans for Biden to say anything about the growing calls from liberal groups to consider adding seats to the Supreme Court if he wins the White House. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has spoken out several times in the past year against the idea, which was floated most prominently by his primary opponent Pete Buttigieg.

So far, there is no sign that Biden or Harris are in active conversations with Democratic congressional leadership or outside groups like Demand Justice and Indivisible, two entities taking the lead on the public response to Ginsburg's death. Both organizations and dozens of others are sponsoring a vigil Saturday night at the Supreme Court, while local chapters and local Democratic Party officials are holding similar events this weekend in cities nationwide. 

By Saturday morning, even Democrats in Sioux City, Iowa — a mostly conservative locale — were making plans to gather Saturday night at the Bill of Rights Monument at the Sioux City Public Museum.

An email to party members said, "Masks and Social Distancing Expected."

Adam Brewster contributed to this report.

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