Ex-White House chief Ron Klain says Merrick Garland should ‘get more aggressive’ on voting rights and abortion

The former White House chief of staff took a step that he would likely never have made while still at his old job on Sunday and directly criticised Attorney General Merrick Garland for his approach towards a Republican offensive against voting access and abortion rights.

Ron Klain made the comments in conversation with his old colleague, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, on her MSNBC show Inside with Jen Psaki.

"Well, I think that Judge Garland believes very much in the Justice Deparmtent and insititutional norms there, and I think at a time when a lot of Americans, including me, would like the Justice Department to get more aggressive in court defending voting rights, defending reproductive rights – that more cautious, measured approach seems just not aggressive enough, given the threats that our rights face,” he commented.

The remarks were seemingly unpromtped, as Psaki had asked him what Americans don’t understand about the head of the Justice Department and his apolitical take towards his job.

“I think they should look for opportunities to go to court and make it clear that voter intimidation is wrong, and that some of the efforts in these states to limit women’s rights to travel, get information, get the medical care that they need, is contrary to the broader principles of our Constitution,” he said.

The comments were measured themselves but could still cause friction between the White House and the Justice Department, the latter of which only became accustomed to direct criticism of their efforts from 1600 Pennsylvania during the Trump era and had come to expect a return to normalcy under Joe Biden.

Mr Klain left the White House at the beginning of this year after overseeing the White House’s operations for the first half of Mr Biden’s first term. He has since returned to legal work, being replaced by the former White House Covid-19 coordinator, Jeff Zients.

The points he raised on Psaki’s show have been echoed by many progressive groups who say that the administration is not using its full power in response to the continued erosion of access to vote across Republican jurisdictions particularly in the South as well as the unprecedented end of federal protections for abortion rights with the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe vs Wade last year.

Mr Biden himself is not immune from the criticism, and in February left activists unimpressed with passing mentions to abortion rights in his State of the Union address to Congress.