Is Biden a man out of time?

Even so, many Democrats share a sense that on all these issues, abortion included, Biden and his team have been following, not leading. And that tendency points to an enduring question about Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972 and was shaped by a clubbier, more cooperative Washington. Can he be the inspirational leader his party needs to counter the aggressive moves by Republicans in Congress and in the states, together with their appointees on the Supreme Court, to reverse long-held civil rights and even threaten democracy itself?

After Biden’s statement today, Lieu tweeted that Biden had now shown “strong leadership,” and many others in the party welcomed the announcement. But Jeff Shesol, a former White House speechwriter for Bill Clinton and the author of a book on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s conflicts with the Supreme Court, noted the tension in Biden’s remarks. “As strong as that statement was, there was a sense that he had been backed into it,” Shesol told me. “It followed days of Democrats calling on him to say something along these lines. When he finally said it, there was a sense of a yielding rather than a president who is leading.” Now the real issue, Shesol said, “is whether he will sustain the argument, or will he simply issue a statement periodically when a Supreme Court decision would seem to demand it politically?”

Even many of Biden’s critics agree that his establishment pedigree, and his promises to unify the country and work with Republicans, contributed to his victory over Trump. He reassured, they concede, many center-right voters who might have preferred the former president’s policies but recoiled from his belligerent personality and style. But to frustrated Democrats, the administration’s cautious response to the abortion decision is further evidence that Biden’s roots in an earlier political order have left him slow to acknowledge, much less respond to, the radicalization of the Trump-era GOP. The growing chorus among the president’s internal critics is that even if Biden was the right man for beating Trump, he has become the wrong man for combatting Trumpism.