Is this really a new game? The circumstances are fresh, but it’s part of an old vulnerability that occurs whenever members of Congress stand for election — especially for the presidency. Joe Biden’s triple-flip-with-a-twist on the Hyde Amendment, the annual rider on budgets that prohibits federal funding for abortions, has his fellow Democrats in a dither:
Democratic candidates are also racing to highlight their own support for the Hyde Amendment’s repeal.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters in a gaggle in Indiana that she will “lead the fight” to overturn the amendment. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker told NBC News that “things like the Hyde Amendment are attacks on women.” And more than a half-dozen candidates tweeted about repealing the amendment.
Outside of Biden, no other Democratic presidential candidate in the race has said they support keeping the law and several have made repealing Hyde a centerpiece of their abortion-rights policies.
Sens. Warren, Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as well as Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., have co-sponsored legislation to do just that.
Warren made herself the loudest voice on the issue. She took a question about Hyde at an MSNBC town hall yesterday and declared that she would take the lead in ending it:
— Team Warren (@teamwarren) June 6, 2019
There’s just one problem with Warren’s get-tough stance. She’s actually voted for the Hyde Amendment, and more than once. In fact, so has everyone running for president who has served in Congress, with one notable exception last year:
The Hyde Amendment passed in 1977 as part of an appropriations bill, and, while it was only in effect as long as that budget lasted, has appeared in subsequent appropriations bills for decades. Even the Affordable Care Act contains a complicated provision that echoes Hyde. And while Biden would’ve been the only congressmember around to okay the original amendment, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Co.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), voted for a 2018 appropriations bill that contained similar language.
Of the current and former congressmembers running for president, only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted down the 2018 bill.
Some of the candidates even voted for it twice last year, Politico points out:
It doesn’t take long to find an example of Warren voting for the Hyde Amendment. Take this bill, which funded a big chunk of the government last year.
IT INCLUDED this language: “(a) None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for any abortion. (b) None of the funds appropriated in this Act, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are appropriated in this Act, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.”
WARREN voted for this bill twice. So did Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Eric Swalwell and others. Bernie Sanders voted no. President DONALD TRUMP signed it into law.
Sanders gets an honorable mention for balking, but note that no one’s looking past 2018, either. If one digs deeply enough, I’d bet we’d find a Bernie aye on a funding bill with the Hyde rider at some point. How many Obama-era budgets did Sanders vote against? Clinton-era? Unless Sanders has never voted for a budget since his first entry into Congress in 1991, he’s also OK’d the Hyde Amendment.
The defense for these candidates is that riders get attached to budgets all the time, and there’s not much one can do after an amendment has passed. They could keep voting against budgets, but at some point Congress has to fund the federal government. Otherwise, they’d be failing their basic task … and these days, they mostly are failing it. This is part of a broader electoral nitpicking over procedural votes that has become a tactic embraced by both parties and numerous political-action groups, which largely ignores how parliamentary procedure works.
In that sense, this is a silly game — but no sillier than making the Hyde Amendment an issue for a presidential election. Presidents don’t attach amendments to funding bills; Congress does that. All presidents can do with the Hyde Amendment is to either sign the overall bill or veto the whole thing. If all these Democrats want to do something about the Hyde Amendment, they’re already in the offices where they can impact it.
So why are they running for president? And why haven’t they already done something about the Hyde Amendment? These arguments now only make clear that they’re all failures in their current positions, at least on the issue on which they’re all seizing now. Except, of course, for Joe Biden … at least at the moment.