On Thursday night, Joe Biden reversed his past support for the Hyde Amendment – bowing to pressure from the Democratic Party’s liberal wing and abandoning a long and allegedly deeply held point of personal conviction.
“If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code,” Biden told a cheering crowd at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta. (The Hyde Amendment, in essence, bans federal dollars from being used on abortion services.)
Which, on its face, is fine! And smart, politically speaking! Politicians are (or sthhould be) allowed to evolve over the years – changing or altering positions based on new information. And given the current attempts in Republican-controlled state governments from Missouri to Alabama to Georgia to drastically curtail the availability of abortions, Biden’s support of the Hyde Amendment was increasingly anachronistic in the Democratic Party. Which is a problem when you are the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Here’s the problem: Up until 24 hours before Biden’s change of position on the Hyde Amendment, his top surrogates were painting his continued support for the amendment as a principled stand born of his Catholic faith. Here’s Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond defending Biden’s view on Hyde Wednesday night with CNN’s Chris Cuomo:
“He is a deeply religious man. … He is guided by his faith, his position on the Hyde Amendment has been consistent.”
The abruptness of the reversal on Hyde suggests two things about Biden’s position – and the campaign going forward:
1) It can’t have been all that deeply held and based on his personal faith if he abandoned it after 48 hours of moderate pressure from liberal interest groups.
2) He’s conscious of – and concerned about – the left rebelling against him, and is willing to bend past positions (and do so quickly) in order to get out of the firing range of these liberals.
Both of those things should be concerning for Biden backers going forward in this race.
Why? Because what happened Thursday night sets a precedent – when confronted with allegedly long-held views that are out of step with the current iteration of the Democratic base, Biden is willing to abandon those positions. The next time something from Biden’s past record becomes an issue – and this will happen, given the fact that Biden spent nearly four decades voting on stuff in the Senate – there will be an expectation, because of how Biden handled the Hyde Amendment flap, that he will walk away from what he said in the past in service of maintaining his chances of winning the nomination next year.
“This is not the move of a confident front-runner and shows that whatever Biden’s relative moderation compared to the rest of the field, it will be eroded throughout this process,” tweeted National Review editor Rich Lowry. Agreed!
Now, it’s possible this is a one-off. That Biden had long been questioning his stance on the Hyde Amendment and decided that this was the moment to come out and officially announce his views. And that, when other issues like this come up, he won’t flip-flop.
Maybe! But the fact that Richmond was out on national TV defending Biden less than 24 hours before the former VP changed positions suggests this was a snap decision made in the face of protests from the liberal left, not some sort of long-term evolution in the face of current developments and new information.
And that is the point. This wasn’t a principled progression of Biden’s views. This was a kowtowing to the party’s liberal base.