Biden appears to be softening his stance on the death penalty

Fielding a question from a voter aligned with the ACLU about how he’d reduce the federal prison population, Biden gave a long and winding answer: He defended his crime bill, advocated for reforms to the criminal justice system involving nonviolent and drug offenders, and said he was proud of his work with Barack Obama to cut the federal prison population by 3,800.

Then, unprompted, Biden added: “By the way, congratulations to ya’ll ending the death penalty here.”

Biden’s campaign would not comment on his answer, or shed light on whether he’s changed his position on the death penalty. The ACLU also declined to weigh in, given the ambiguity of his comment.

Biden’s support for the death penalty was consistent throughout his 30-plus years in the Senate. Whether that stand holds will be another case study of how he reconciles long-held beliefs with the leftward march of his party. His record is full of tough-on-crime bills and statements that were in line with Bill Clinton-style centrism, but now look out of step.