The politics of Joe Biden's reversal on the Hyde Amendment

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 7, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For many years as a U.S. senator, I've supported the Hyde Amendment. So I make no apologies in my last position and I make no apologies for what I'm about to say.

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.

I've never attempted to impose my views on anyone else as to when life begins. I have never intended to impose my view on who should pay for it.


MIKE EMANUEL, ANCHOR: And there was this reaction from 2020 presidential candidate Seth Moulton, who tweeted "Bravo to Joe Biden for doing the right thing and reversing his longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment. It takes courage to admit when you're wrong, especially when those decisions affect millions of people. Now do the Iraq War."

So is Joe Biden's 47-year public record running into the standards of 2019 progressives? Let's bring in our panel, Tom Rogan, commentary writer for the "Washington Examiner," Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," and Charles Lane, opinion writer for "The Washington Post." Chuck, your thoughts?

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": I think we need to start out by establishing exactly what the Hyde Amendment is. It basically says you can't use federal funds to pay for any abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. So there are some exceptions to the ban. It affects about one-fifth of all women of childbearing age in this country because of the large scope of Medicaid.

And this was a kind of compromise that came along in the wake of Roe versus Wade back in the days when they still did compromises in Washington, so that abortion would be a Constitutional right, but no one can strongly disagree with it had to have their tax funds go for it. And Joe Biden is a creature of that bygone era in Washington when those kinds of accommodations were made.

And what he has just shown here is that he has yielded to the new, more polarized politics of the Democratic Party on the issue of abortion, and really justifying it in terms of the more polarized Republican position, saying that it's because of what they've done in Georgia, and so on.

The irony of all of this is that most Americans actually do have nuanced views. They favor legal abortion but in the conditional way. And so even though I think this will probably be on balance help him in the primary, I don't think he'll be punished for flip-flopping by Democrats, it'll be very interesting to see if he gets the nomination whether this will haunt him in the fall.

EMANUEL: Of course, a lot of people have a huge objection about using tax dollars for those purposes.

LANE: Yes, that's the point.

EMANUEL: Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": There are two issues in play here. One is the central human rights issue of our time, which is about ending human life after it has begun in the womb, and this is a very polarizing issue. There are people who think that it should be legal but regulated. There are a majority of Americans who believe that taxpayers should not be forced to fund that violence in the womb against their conscience.

And this was Joe Biden's big claim to fame, that he was a moderate, that he wasn't beholden to the activist base of his party. That's kind of the whole point of his candidacy is that he is not someone who has to answer to their beck and call, but he can appeal to a broader audience. And the question is if he is going to respond, after decades upon decades of having a position claiming he was pro-life, claiming he opposed abortion, to flip within 24 hours, it forces the question of, what is the point of his candidacy if he is going to acquiesce to whatever their demands are?

EMANUEL: And apparently there is some concern that if he starts apologizing, when does he stop apologizing, because he's got this 47-year record, right?

HEMINGWAY: Is not just abortion. It's on a whole host of issues where he has been, as Chuck notes, someone who has been moderate or willing to compromise on all sorts of things. And the progressive left is not going to stop with just demanding full acquiescence on abortion up through nine months of pregnancy. There are a whole host of issues they are going to demand acquiescence on.

EMANUEL: Of course, it's a very crowded field of Democrats running for the White House. It'll be interesting to see if perhaps they team up and put him in a bad spot again about another policy issue.

TOM ROGAN, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think the challenge -- and that's the real driving force here I think for the Biden campaign is that as much as they are the frontrunner and feasible in a good position to be able to take on President Trump in the general election in terms of Joe Biden's relative appeal to blue-collar workers, to the rustbelt, the issue they face is that, yes, there are a lot of other Democratic candidates out there. And if those candidates begin to unify around someone who is seen as the better liberal voice, the anti-Trump voice, which is so much of the driving voice of the Democratic Party, suddenly Joe Biden's position becomes a lot more precarious.

And so I think the Biden's campaign gambit is that this moment where he is still ahead, its' better just to suck it up, and yes, to make a pretty major flip-flop that is ideologically systemic, as Mollie suggest, but to take that because the endgame here is just about securing that nomination.

LANE: He is responding to the makeup of the Democratic primary electorate, which is disproportionately women, and in the south disproportionately women of color. And he was advised that if he didn't do this, he would be on the defensive with those groups. I repeat, I think that for the primary, this was politically -- I'm not defending it in policy terms necessarily, but politically it was probably the smart move. He will, if he gets the nomination, have just handed the Republicans a lot of ammunition.

EMANUEL: Let's get the read out from some of the prominent Democrats. David Axelrod, who ran President Obama's campaign tweeting last night "The Joe Biden rollout was close to flawless. His handling of the 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." Meanwhile, here is former DNC chair and Fox News contributor Donna Brazile.


DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's up to each and every individual voter. People like myself will forgive you for having a policy change if you find out new information or get new facts. Joe Biden has a good record, a proven record of leadership on women's issues, and I think many voters will give him another opportunity.


EMANUEL: How big of a change? Listen to Vice President Biden back in 2012.


BIDEN: I accept my church's position on abortion. Life begins at conception. That's the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. I just refuse to impose that on others.


EMANUEL: So Mollie, do left activist now feel emboldened to try to push Joe Biden to the left?

HEMINGWAY: I'm sure they do, and I think that when you respond to a mob in your own party this way so quickly, succumbing to that pressure, it's a sign that they can probably exact other concessions in the future.

But this larger issue where the Democratic Party used to be a place where pro-life people could vote in good conscience, there are a lot of people who were forced out of the Democratic Party by its increasing extremism. And this has benefited the Republican Party quite a bit. This is, as Chuck notes, it's going to be a huge gift for Republicans. It also explains so much of what happened in 2016, that a lot of people who might not of thought that Donald Trump was the most ideal candidate, they looked at some of these issues such as protection of life in the womb, and they saw that they needed to vote over an already pretty radical Hillary Clinton. And so this will be an issue that comes into play again in 2020.

LANE: But Mollie, there are these laws in Alabama and Georgia, these heartbeat laws, these very extreme statutes that are also on the other end that Republicans are pushing and that they are going to have to answer for. In 2016, this was already in the democratic platform, repeal the Hyde Amendment. So it's not entirely new. It's new for Biden.

HEMINGWAY: There's also something new that happened with the Democratic Party, pushing legislation that allows children who survive abortions to be left for dead in New York --

LANE: The activists of both parties have polarized. There are still a lot of people in the middle, and they're not being very well represented by the party bases.

EMANUEL: Next up, the Friday lightning round, Mexico tariffs, the May jobs reports, plus winners and losers.



TRUMP: When you are the piggy bank that everybody steals and robs from and they deceive you like they've been doing for 25 years, tariffs are a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful word, if you know how to use them properly.

KEVIN HASSETT, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS CHAIRMAN: There's been a lot of progress in the talks. And my understanding is that the minute the president lands he's going to be presented with the material progress and then he's going to put everything on the table and make a decision about next steps.


EMANUEL: So that's the view from the White House. Here is the view from lawmakers who represent the Midwest.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL, D-MICH.: A five percent tariff increases the cost of a vehicle by $250. Cars that are being imported from Mexico, which I don't want to see being built there, by the way, but are going to have an increased cost by $1,000. This could cost anywhere from 90,000 to 300,000 jobs.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, R-ILL.: My concern with the idea of opening a trade front with Mexico, because I represent a hugely agricultural district that has been very patient and very supportive of the fight against China, and this could be another basically left hook to their face.


EMANUEL: And we are back with our panel, Tom, Mollie, and Chuck. Tom, let's start with you.

ROGAN: There is clearly a lot of opposition in this in Congress including from Republicans. I think there's sympathy for the China tariffs angle because of the national security component there, and the broad understanding of just how aggressive China has been with things like an intellectual property.

But on Mexico, it is quite striking, I always think with this White House, when you see officials come out openly, as forward as we've just seen there, and suggesting there's going to be an amenability to a deal, we've seen President Trump hinting at that, there's more opportunity. I suspect that the Mexico tariff situation will be resolved over the weekend. But again, we'll have to wait and see.

EMANUEL: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: We really do have a major problem on our southern border. President Trump has said that if you don't have borders, you don't have a country. And essentially, we don't have a southern border right now. And it seems that there is this hostility to doing anything in Congress. They really are the people who should be managing border issues, drug issues, and whatnot, but they're just not doing it.

So this was a call to Mexico to take it seriously. It appears Mexico took it very seriously, that they are willing to do some stuff that will hopefully deal with part of the problem and hopefully continue the talks since the measures that they have put in place are not quite sufficient to all the problems we have here.

LANE: I just want to say that this picture he's painting of trade with Mexico as a situation where they are stealing and robbing from the United States is crazy, that actually we have a fairly even trade with Mexico even though there is a slight deficit. And the idea that voluntary transactions in which both sides engage because they both benefit is stealing and robbing is just nonsense.

EMANUEL: OK, so the first Friday in June, which means May job reports. Let's take a look at the numbers. The U.S. economy added 75,000 jobs in May, well below the 175,000 that analysts predicted. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at a 50 year low of 3.6 percent. So that number, unemployment is obvious great, stock market was great, but jobs market, what do you think?

LANE: Kevin Hassett, who is on his way out as the economic adviser for the president, said a lot of this has to do with the floods in the Midwest which could be true. Some of it, though, does have to do with the uncertainty generated by tariffs. The FED is having its hand forced by this momentary sluggishness, and is talking about reducing interest rates. They might go ahead with it.

EMANUEL: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: The jobs market has been roaring for months. And here you see a pretty significant change, and it is important to take that change quite seriously and not just think, well, the previous months have been good. There was also a downward trend in some of the previous months for jobs.

Part of it is OK in that sometimes when you have slower job growth you can have wage increases, and increasing wages, particularly of lower income employees, is also good for them and for the country. So it's not necessarily time to panic, but something to watch out for. And of course the stock market had a pretty good week this week.


ROGAN: The big cloud in the sky, it's been there for a while. We expected a deal about a month ago. China. But ultimately the Chinese economy is weak. The structural problems that they face there in terms of demographics, but in the immediate term, capital evacuation, the challenges for Huawei, they need a deal. We will get a deal. When that happens I expect we will see a reversion back to some of the great growth in terms of job numbers that we've seen.

EMANUEL: All right, let's go to Winners and Wosers. Tom, lead us off.

ROGAN: My winner of the week is Xi Jinping, leader of China in terms of Vladimir Putin kneeling to the Beijing throne. Vladimir Putin accepting Huawei to be able to build the network in Russia. That will be a fun little challenge for the FSB to try and monitor Chinese Ministry of State Security. And also we've seen in terms of this challenge, the American ship in the Philippine Sea. Notable that it was happening there were the Chinese are trying to do their island campaign. That was the subjugation from Putin to Xi.

My loser of the week, Beto O'Rourke. We haven't seen him. The wonder boy, where is he? He's depleting. He's down and out. It shows how dynamic American politics is.

EMANUEL: Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: My winner is the university of Alabama, this was actually mentioned earlier in this show that they returned a $21.5 million gift from a donor and took the name off the law school of that donor because he had threatened the voters of Alabama with a boycott because they had passed a bill to protect unborn life. And then my loser of the week is YouTube, which just de-platformed comedian Steven Crowder, responding to a bullying mob of media and other social justice warriors. They are choosing a bad time to go against conservative speech again.


LANE: I'm going to start with my loser, and it's Joe Biden for the reasons we've been discussing. That old political adage, if you are explaining you are losing in politics, and he's been explaining all week. My winner, I can't believe I'm the only one who picked this, is Mr. Tom Rice. I hope I've got his name right. He's 97-years-old. He jumped in at Normandy the night before D-Day and they gave him another go at it this week. And he said it was a lot more fun the second time around. If that isn't winning, I don't know what is.

EMANUEL: Awesome.

When we come back, "Notable Quotables."


EMANUEL: Finally tonight, it's time for "Notable Quotables.".


TRUMP: Seventy-five years ago, 10,000 men shed their blood and thousands sacrificed their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A guy falling over there, a guy falling over there. It was hell on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody had to do something because old Hitler, he needed to be brought down.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, I-VT, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot go back to the old ways.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want women to have a seat at the table.

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: What about man?

GILLIBRAND: They are already there! Do you not know?


BIDEN: I've supported the Hyde Amendment like many, many others have.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.

BIDEN: The circumstances have changed.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: When you're impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment.

TRUMP: She's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.

CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: He makes these threats, and then he backs off when he sees the danger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been known to play with fire, but not live hand grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was birtherism racists.

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Look, I wasn't really involved in that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

TRUMP: We have the cleanest air in the world in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one picks up after themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't really know if there's much spicy stuff that I've noticed over the last two years.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Your pants start falling down.


TRUMP: She was nasty to me, and that's OK for her to be nasty. It's not good for me to be nasty for her.


EMANUEL: God bless this D-Day veterans. They are an inspiration. Thanks for watching “Special Report.” I'm Mike Emanuel in Washington. "The Story", guest-hosted by my body Ed Henry, starts right now.

Hi, Ed.

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