Biden advisor: His latest flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment isn't really a flip-flop

He’s the same man today as he’s always been, Symone Sanders insists. A man who has personal beliefs about abortion but who can’t justify “locking women out” of coverage based on their zip code.


Well, says CNN’s Jim Sciutto, he seemed pretty okay with locking them out for the past 43 years.

So, you see, there does appear to be something of a shift here.

Sanders is doing her best to play a bad hand, essentially arguing that Biden retains deep misgivings about taxpayer-funded abortion but has been persuaded that the interest of lower-income women in being able to afford an abortion if they need one takes precedence. Among the people who helped persuade Biden of that, according to the Atlantic, was Sanders herself. Oh, and … Alyssa Milano?

This was a tense two days in Biden’s D.C. headquarters. The candidate was caught off guard after an NBC News story published Wednesday morning attempted to nail down where he stands on abortion policy—specifically Hyde. Symone Sanders, one of Biden’s senior advisers, confronted him, she confirmed to me Thursday night, telling Biden that he was missing how his position disproportionately affected poorer women and women of color without easy access to abortion. Alyssa Milano, the actress who’s become a major online presence on issues of women’s rights as well as a friend of the Biden team, spoke by phone Wednesday to Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz, telling him the candidate needed to change. More calls came in, more tough conversations…

Biden’s aides say they don’t want this to be seen as a political move, but as a thoughtful evolution squeezed into a frantic Wednesday and Thursday. The official Biden campaign line is that changing his position proves he’s acting on principle. “Vice President Biden’s honesty and candor are big reasons why his candidacy is resonating all across the country. Voters respond to his authenticity, and want a president with values that are nothing like the current occupant of the White House,” said Biden campaign press secretary T.J. Ducklo in a prepared statement.


“A thoughtful evolution squeezed into a few days” is the best Orwellian euphemism I’ve ever heard for a cowardly reversal born of rank political expedience. Milano’s weird cameo is icing on the cake. It’s like finding out that George H.W. Bush was consulting with Tony Danza in the run-up to the first Gulf War.

Maybe we can get Trump to reverse on those Mexico tariffs if Danny Pintauro puts in a good word.

Among many other reasons why it was foolish for Biden to reverse himself, notes Ramesh Ponnuru, is how it weakens a potential attack on Trump over abortion next year:

First, it puts Biden on the unpopular side of the issue. Advocates of taxpayer funding can point to polls saying that most people support abortion — but that’s true only when the polls have been worded not to mention taxpayer funding. A 2016 poll that clarified it was asking about Medicaid paying for abortions found that 58 percent of the public opposed it.

Second, it means that the Democratic nominee will find it more difficult to portray Republicans as far right on abortion.

Republican opponents are on the wrong side of public opinion on several questions about the issue. Most people say they would like to see Roe v. Wade survive, for example. If Biden had stuck with his opposition to taxpayer funding and won the nomination, he might have been able to draw a contrast between his own moderation and the Republicans’ extremism. But the Democrats have now drawn more attention than ever before to a question where they’re the ones who want a big change in abortion policy that most people oppose.


The most one can say for Uncle Joe here is that he’s a captive of a party that’s become fanatic about this issue. He supported the Hyde Amendment as long as he could do so while remaining electorally viable, through nearly four decades in the Senate and nearly a full decade as VP. In 2019, though, the Democratic Party view of abortion is “no limits,” full stop. And they’re invested enough in it that the so-called most electable candidate in the field concluded that he’d no longer be electable if he didn’t pander.

Exit question: Under the Symone Sanders standard, when would a politician ever be guilty of a flip-flop? If a reversal as quick and cynical as Biden’s can be spun as a matter of considered persuasion and evolution over time, is even the reptilian Kirsten Gillibrand guilty of flip-flopping?

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