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VICTOR JOECKS: Joe Biden flip-flop-flips on abortion funding

Updated June 11, 2019 - 10:59 pm

All Joe Biden has to do to win the Democrat presidential nomination is stop reminding people that he’s best known for political blunders, back rubs and gaffes. It’s not going well so far.

For more than 40 years, Biden has supported the Hyde Amendment. Named after the pro-life Rep. Henry Hyde, it’s a budget rider that prohibits the government from funding abortion. Exceptions are made for cases of rape or incest and to save the life of a mother. The provision first passed in 1976. Biden joined the U.S. Senate in 1973.

“I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote in a letter in 1994. “As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”

During the Obama administration, with Biden serving as vice president, the Hyde Amendment remained in effect. The amendment wasn’t just ceremonial either. In 1976, the government paid for nearly 25 percent of the country’s abortions, around 300,000 a year. The provision has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support for decades and is broadly popular. A 2016 Harvard poll found 58 percent of the public supported it, with 36 percent opposed.

But Biden’s 40 years of “principled” support for Hyde withered in the face of a single question from a Democrat primary voter.

On May 8, a woman asked the former vice president if he’d support repealing Hyde. “It can’t stay,” Biden replied. An online video of the exchange didn’t attract much attention for a couple of weeks.

But after Biden campaign officials were asked about his policy reversal, they insisted Biden had misheard the question. In a June 5 article, NBC News reported that Biden’s campaign had reaffirmed his support of the Hyde Amendment.

On June 6 — just a day later — Biden reversed his reversal.

“I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Biden said Thursday. “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 needs to recognize that there are trade-offs between appealing to the most liberal voters and the strengths of his candidacy.

There are half a dozen high-profile Democrat candidates running as extreme liberals to outright socialists. Biden is the only high-profile Democrat campaigning as a pseudo-moderate. It doesn’t make sense to abandon moderate voters to pursue liberal voters who already have more options.

Biden’s best contrast with President Donald Trump is presenting himself as a seasoned and principled political figure. The message should be this: Trump is chaotic. You may not like old Joe, but you know what you’re getting.

So much for that. Biden’s also made himself less appealing in a general election, which undermines his electability argument.

An infamous flip-flop helped derail John Kerry’s presidential ambitions. Joe Biden needs to hope he has more success with his recent flip-flop-flip.

This article originally misidentified Henry Hyde. He was in the House of Representatives.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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