Elizabeth Warren says Joe Biden is wrong about the Hyde Amendment

"We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential hopeful, campaigns at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., June 5, 2019. Warren’s recent rollout of an “economic patriotism” manufacturing proposal is an appeal to the same mostly white upper Midwest constituency that flocked in 2016 to Bernie Sanders, and later, to Donald Trump. (Mark Felix/The New York Times)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential hopeful, campaigns at a town hall meeting Wednesday in Elkhart, Indiana. –Mark Felix / The New York Times

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, slowly gaining ground in the crowded Democratic presidential primary, appeared on MSNBC on Wednesday for a friendly town-hall event, which gave her ample opportunity to describe her signature policies and deliver some of her most reliable applause lines.

But first came a question about the political news of the day: that former Vice President Joe Biden still supports the Hyde Amendment, which has banned federal funding for abortions since 1976.

Several Democratic candidates, including Warren, had previously called for repealing the amendment, and Biden’s announcement brought more of them forward Wednesday. When asked directly on air if Biden was wrong, Warren said yes.

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Warren noted, as she has before, that she came of age before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationwide and that women still got abortions back then — some safely and some unsafely. No matter what the Supreme Court does, and regardless of whether the Hyde Amendment is repealed, “women of means will still have access to abortions,” she said.

“Who won’t will be poor women,” she continued. “It will be working women, women who can’t afford to take off three days from work. It will be very young women. It will be women who have been raped and women who have been molested by someone in their own family. We do not pass laws that take away that freedom from the women who are most vulnerable.”

The forum, moderated by Chris Hayes, was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the first question of the night concerned the location — which, Hayes noted, was Warren’s choice. He asked why, setting Warren up smoothly to make the central argument of her campaign.

“People in Indiana understand jobs — they understand how to build an economy that doesn’t just work for a thin slice at the top, but an economy that works for everyone,” she said. “Leaving it to a handful of giant multinational corporations to build our economy just doesn’t work. Those big corporations don’t have any loyalty to America. They don’t have loyalty to American workers. They have loyalty to exactly one thing, and that is their own profits.”

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Warren’s recent rise in the polls has been driven by her comprehensive proposals on student debt, taxation, the opioid crisis, abortion and other topics, and her answer to this first question tied in neatly with her most recent release: a proposal for “aggressive intervention” to boost the economy and create jobs, including $2 trillion in government investments in environmentally friendly industries and a new Cabinet department for economic development.

The plan, which she described as “economic patriotism,” is part of Warren’s effort not only to replace Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont as the standard-bearer for liberal Democrats, but also to appeal to the working-class voters in the Midwest who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

After the first commercial break, Warren was joined by two of those voters, as well as one who voted for Hillary Clinton and one who wrote in Sanders. The Trump voters, Renee Elliott and Susan Cropper, said they had been sold on Trump’s promises to save manufacturing and other jobs in states like Indiana but now felt betrayed.

“I feel duped,” Elliott said. “I don’t have a lot of faith in political candidates much anymore. They make promises, and they make them and break them.”

“The thing is, you can’t just wave your arms,” Warren said in response. “You’ve really got to have a plan, and” — her frequent refrain — “I do have a plan.”

She went on to outline this week’s economic proposal, as well as her universal child care plan and her proposed wealth tax: 2 cents on every dollar of wealth above $50 million, with an additional 1 percent tax on assets over $1 billion.

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“I get why people feel discouraged,” she said. “But the bottom line is, this is a democracy. And in a democracy, we need our budget and our numbers to align with our values, and our values are not that the top one-tenth of 1 percent keeps their 2 cents and nobody else gets it.”

Hayes broke in, questioning Warren sharply on the feasibility of her plans. “They’re Mitch McConnell’s values,” he said, referring to the Senate majority leader.

“You’re not going to be elected ruler of the universe or monarch,” Hayes continued, his voice rising, in a rare departure from the event’s friendly tone. Democrats “had to scratch and claw to get two Republican votes on a stimulus when the economy’s going through the worst crash in 70 years,” he added. “So you’re walking in and you have a website full of plans that might pencil out and that people might like, but in what universe are those going to be passed?”

Warren responded by calling on the audience to join “a grassroots movement across this country” that, she said, would allow Democrats to retake the Senate, governor’s offices and statehouses.

“We could give up,” she said. “Or what we can say is, this is the moment that we fight. I am in this fight all the way.”

After Warren answered questions about whether she still considered impeachment the “right path forward” (yes, she said, repeating her declaration that if Trump were any other American, “he would be carried out in handcuffs”) and the issue she would never compromise on (health care), Hayes ended the night on one of the race’s most fraught subjects: electability.

What, Hayes asked, did Warren say to people who agreed with her on policy but doubted she could beat Trump?

“I remember when people said Barack Obama couldn’t be elected,” she said. “I remember when people said Donald Trump couldn’t be elected, and here we are. Elections are about getting in there and fighting for it and making clear to the American people what you stand for.”

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