Biden faces first crisis as front-runner

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE’s embrace of the Hyde amendment, prohibiting federal funds from being used for abortion, combined with a new plagiarism controversy have created the most challenging week for the Democratic front-runner since he entered the race for the White House earlier this spring. 

Biden has led public opinion polls by double-digits since announcing his campaign but will now face new questions about whether he can retain his lead. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Democratic rivals who slammed Biden’s support of the Hyde amendment on Wednesday will be looking to use his remarks and position on abortion, in particular, to close the gap while casting the former vice president as out of step with the party. 

And while the story that Biden’s campaign took lines from outside sources for his climate plan may not damage him as much in the Democratic primary, it does raise the specter of his 1988 presidential run — which ran aground after it was revealed that Biden plagiarized speeches from a British politician. 

“Biden has had a bad week,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, summing up the double whammy of stories that had been the talk of cable news for much of Wednesday. 

“His support of the Hyde amendment is a serious problem,” Bannon added. “Women will make up about 60 percent of the Democratic primary electorate and they are energized because of the draconian new abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia.” 

The former vice president did not back away from his past support of the Hyde amendment on Wednesday, and he may see a danger in shifting away from a long-held position. A source close to Biden said it’s a deeply complicated issue for him, one that is tied to his faith. 

“Whether you agree with it or not, it seems to be on brand for Biden — having long held a position and not changing it,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau. “That being said, if I was a Democratic presidential primary candidate, this is not the conversation I would want to be having right now.” 

Several Democrats said Biden will have to explain why he has taken the position.

“He needs to break it down for voters and explain it,” one strategist said. “If he doesn’t do some explaining fast, that could be a turning point because the Democratic Party has clearly moved in the other direction and Democrats feel like there’s a growing assault on women’s rights.” 

Advocating for the Hyde amendment wasn’t a terribly controversial position for a Democratic politician to take just a decade ago. 

But the Democratic Party’s platform in 2016 included getting rid of the restrictions on federal funding. And in 2007, former President Obama campaigned against the Hyde amendment.

Obama did sign an executive order to ensure passage of ObamaCare that effectively reasserted the ban on the use of federal funds for abortion. Obama did so as part of a deal with former Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.) and other Democrats who opposed abortion. Those Democrats backed ObamaCare in exchange for the executive order.

But in the intervening decade, support for abortion rights has only grown in the Democratic Party. As President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE adds conservative justices to the Supreme Court and groups seek to challenge the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion rights groups increasingly see an existential crisis.

Biden’s support of the Hyde amendment was pounced on Wednesday by several Democratic rivals.

“No matter your income or where you live, every woman should have access to health care including abortion,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) tweeted, without mentioning Biden by name. 

Abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood also urged Biden to rethink his support. 

“To support the Hyde amendment is to block people — particularly women of color and women with low incomes — from accessing safe, legal abortion," Planned Parenthood said in a statement on Twitter. “As abortion access is being restricted and pushed out of reach in states around the country, it is unacceptable for a candidate to support policies that further restrict abortion.”

While Biden’s support of the Hyde amendment may likely cast a shadow on his campaign, Democrats see the plagiarism controversy as more of just a blip on the radar. 

“As someone who spent a lot of time over the years putting together these kinds of documents, I don’t think this amounts to much,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who served as an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. “Republicans are going to look for every chance they can but this was a staff mistake and this sort of stuff happens.”  

David Wade, who served as a spokesman for Biden during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, agreed. 

“No one is going to be talking about this in six months let alone a year,” Wade said. “It's a spring training story not a regular season story, and every campaign is going to suffer several of these in the course of the slog to get to 2020.”

Biden has survived controversies and criticism so far as he has argued that he is the Democrat best positioned to defeat Trump next fall.

So far, that argument appears to have resonated with Democratic voters, at least judging by polls.

Even as he endures a difficult week, various polls showed Biden ahead of Trump in Texas, and well ahead in North Carolina.

But Biden will need to prove he can take a punch over the next month as Democrats use the first debate in June to attack him, and as Trump’s campaign digs into his tenure as a senator. 

“Right now based on the polls, and our polls, Joe Biden is clearly in a strong position,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “But Dem voters are dating him. They haven’t married him yet. There’s still time for other Dems to make moves.