Joe Biden’s abrupt about-face over his support for the Hyde Amendment appears to be the latest example of the former vice president reshaping his positions amid pressure from the left including many of his more progressive 2020 rivals.
A day after reaffirming his support for the decades-old ban on federal funds for abortions, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race made headlines Thursday night as he changed course.
"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 declared to a cheering crowd at a Democratic National Committee event in Atlanta. “I can't justify leaving millions of women without the access to care they need, and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right.”
Biden’s abandoning of a long-held position was quickly pilloried by the right.
“Biden fully embraces the radical left and supports unlimited taxpayer funding of abortion,” Republican National Committee rapid response director Steve Guest said in an email blast.
Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, argued that the turnaround was “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.”
Lowry charged that Biden’s “caving sent a very clear message that pro-life Democrats and those with moderate views on abortion will not be tolerated in the Democratic party.”
Even some friendly voices were critical.
University of Chicago Institute of Politics director David Axelrod, who was President Barack Obama’s top political adviser, complimented the former vice president’s strong campaign launch -- but tweeted that Biden’s “handling of this Hyde Amendment issue was a mess. Changes of position over a long career are justifiable but should be thoughtfully planned. This was an awkward flip-flop-flip.”
Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile said on 'America's Newsroom' that "this should give the Biden campaign some early warning that they need to steady themselves as they begin to focus on rolling out more policy decisions or making more changes to their previous positions."
And the Fox News contributor, who managed Vice President Al Gore's 2000 White House campaign, noted that Biden isn't the first presidential candidate to have an "election year epiphany," saying Biden was still right to "listen to women" and amend his position on the Hyde Amendment.
Biden’s movement on the issue comes as abortion is increasingly in the 2020 spotlight, as Republican-controlled states – from Alabama to Georgia to Missouri – have passed into law measures severely restricting access to abortion. Biden’s decades-old stance in support of the Hyde Amendment had further distanced him from his Democratic nomination rivals.
But Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield, in defending her candidate’s change of heart, said in an interview with CNN on Friday that “this is not a decision about politics for him, it’s a decision about health care.”
While not as glaring as his change of stance on the Hyde Amendment, Biden’s also evolved on other topics.
After facing jabs from some of his 2020 Democratic rivals over his handling of the 1991 Senate Judiciary hearing for the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court – when Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment – his campaign said that Biden “shared his regret” with Hill during a “private discussion” in April.
The campaign added that Biden apologized for what Hill had “endured.”
The former vice president was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of the Thomas confirmation process.
When it comes to the hot topic of whether Republican President Trump should face impeachment, Biden’s also evolved in recent weeks. Following last week’s on-camera statement by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Biden followed in the footsteps of some of his nomination rivals by moving closer to calling for the House of Representatives to start impeachment hearings against Trump.
Biden told Fox News earlier this week that House Democrats probing allegations that the president obstructed justice are getting stonewalled and impeachment proceedings against the president “could come up very quickly.”
On the environment, while he’s long advocated combatting climate change, Biden’s campaign spotlighted the Green New Deal – which is championed by progressives – as the candidate unveiled his own wide-ranging plan earlier this week. Biden’s campaign noted that the Green New Deal served as a “framework” for the former vice president’s proposal.
But Biden’s holding his ground when it comes to the now-controversial 1994 crime bill, which has been criticized in recent years by Democrats who blame the measure for spiking incarcerations, particularly among minorities.
Facing jabs from numerous rivals over the law, which the then-senator from Delaware helped craft, Biden has repeatedly defended the measure.
During a town hall in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Biden told an audience member that "you've been conditioned to say" that the 1994 legislation "is a bad bill."
He emphasized that "only one provision in there that had to do with mandatory sentences that I opposed. And that was a thing called the 'three strikes and you're out,' which I thought was a mistake. But it had a lot of the good things in the bill."
Terry Shumaker, a New Hampshire-based attorney and former U.S. ambassador who was a top adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton and who is a top Granite State supporter of Biden, disagrees with the premise that Biden’s bending to the will of the left of the party.
Shumaker said the "vice president's progressive record speaks for itself."