On Joe Biden’s Evangelical Outreach

BIden 3

There are many white evangelicals out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump, but they also refuse to vote for Joe Biden because they are worried about Supreme Court justices, abortion, and religious liberty. I know these people exist because they e-mail and message me regularly–almost every day.

At some point between now and Labor Day, I will try to write a post or publish something on whether or not an evangelical case can be made for Joe Biden. Stay tuned. But in this post I am writing more as a political observer.

David Brody’s reporting on the Biden outreach to evangelical Christians recently caught my eye. You can read it here.

I am not really sure what this outreach will look like. John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for he Biden Campaign, says that white evangelicals should be “open to Joe Biden’s message.” Why? Because Biden wants to build a “more fair and just society” that includes addressing climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. The Biden campaign is also conducting “listening sessions” with evangelical pastors and women. So far that’s it.

As Michael Wear points out in the Brody’s piece, the Hillary Clinton campaign did very little to attract white evangelical votes in 2016. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign. In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.” Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions. During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions. There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty. While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals. This was especially the case with marriage. Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.” The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse. But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle. Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, white evangelicals do not hate Biden. (Christians are not supposed to hate, but it really seems like they hate Hillary. I’ve heard this over and over again from those I met on the Believe Me book tour). Biden is now doing just as well, if not better, than Obama with white evangelicals. One could make a case that the Biden campaign does not need to have a white evangelical outreach plan. As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid (which is definitely possible for Joe) that might rile up white evangelicals, he will get more white evangelical votes in 2020 than Hillary in 2016.

But if Joe Biden’s team is interested in making serious inroads among white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016, he will need to do several things:

On abortion: Biden lost his chance to win over most white evangelicals on this issue when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment. But he can still win some white evangelicals, or at least make them more comfortable with a Biden presidency, if he talked openly about abortion and how his policies on poverty and racial injustice might contribute to the continued lowering of the abortion rate in America. (The high abortion rate among African Americans, for example, is directly related to systemic racism and poverty).

Right now, when Biden talks about abortion, he does so in order to convince his Democratic base that he is pro-choice. This was his strategy during the Democratic primary season. But what if he talks about abortion from the perspective of his Catholic faith and his personal opposition to the practice? This would require him to say that the number of abortion needs to be reduced in America. He could easily make such a case and still defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Bob Casey Jr. made a similar case against Rick Santorum in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election. Such an approach would also give Biden a chance to contrast his views on race and poverty with those of Trump. Biden should not only address abortion when people ask him about it, but he should make it a campaign issue. And yes, I know this is wishful thinking.

Biden also needs to articulate a more nuanced view of religious liberty, especially as it relates to institutions who uphold traditional views on sexuality. Most of the debate on religious liberty today lacks complexity. I would encourage Biden to read Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. He may also want to think about the Fairness for All legislation. Again I know this is a long shot. There will be too much pressure for Biden to follow party orthodoxy on this issue.

An appeal to racial justice, climate change, and immigration will attract some white evangelicals in 2020. But most of these will be the white evangelicals (16%) who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If the Biden campaign wants to ignore my suggestions (above) on abortion and religious liberty, and focus its evangelical outreach solely on race, climate, and immigration, they will need to do a much better job connecting these issues to biblical faith. I am not confident that Biden can deliver on this front in the way that Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when they visited Messiah College and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

Thank You (Again) Bob Casey

Casey

I am proud of my U.S. Senator.  Yesterday he broke with his party by voting for legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  He also broke with his party by voting for a bill that would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions.  While I am on record saying that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is not the best way of reducing abortions in the United States,  I support both pieces of legislation.

The legislation failed, but pro-life Casey (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) both voted in support of the bill.  Doug Jones (D-AL) voted against the bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and in support of the bill protecting babies born alive.

Here is The New York Times:

The first bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Rape victims, for instance, would be required to undergo counseling first. Proponents insist fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, citing their own review of scientific literature, and a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics says “neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks.” But medical experts who favor abortion rights say there is no evidence of that.

It fell seven votes short of the necessary 60, failing by a vote of 53 to 44. Two Republicans — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski — crossed party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — voted in favor.

The second, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, would require doctors to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” Experts say such circumstances are extremely unusual, but the measure would apply to cases in which a baby is not viable outside the womb and doctors induce labor as a means of terminating a pregnancy. The bill would subject physicians to fines and prison time if they failed to comply.

That bill failed, 56 to 44, with Mr. Casey, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones joining all 53 Republicans to vote in favor. The three Democrats scheduled to participate in Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were absent for both votes.

Read the entire piece here.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr. Responds to Trump’s Use of Park Service Funds for His July 4th Event

Hall-and-Wings-960-X-480_1

Independence Hall has a repair backlog

I am proud of my United States senator.  Bob Casey joins U.S. representative Dwight Evans in this statement.  Get some context here.

PHILADELPHIA (July 3, 2019) – U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA-03) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said Independence National Historical Park already has a multimillion-dollar backlog of repairs — and the Trump administration’s raiding $2.5 million of park maintenance funding for a partisan July Fourth event in Washington, D.C., will only make national parks’ conditions worse in Philadelphia and across the nation.

Congressman Evans said, “I have met with community groups in Philadelphia about the condition of Independence National Historical Park, and I share their concerns. I have co-sponsored the bipartisan Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act to dedicate a massive funding increase to address the repair backlog at Independence Park and across the country.

“Outrageously, the Trump administration is raiding $2.5 million in park maintenance funds for the Trump-centric July Fourth event in Washington, and the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have received VIP tickets to distribute to the July Fourth event. Our nation’s birthday is supposed to bring us together and instead President Trump is apparently using it for partisan political purposes. It’s disgusting.”

Senator Casey said, “After proposing steep cuts to the National Park Service, President Trump is now wasting their limited resources on what’s essentially a campaign rally on the government dime. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is facing more than $51 million in deferred maintenance costs alone; we cannot afford any more of this President’s vanity projects.”

Evans represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Northwest and West Philadelphia and parts of North, South, Southwest and Center City Philadelphia.

Three Cheers for Bob Casey Jr. and His Vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Casey

Today I am proud of my Senator, Robert Casey Jr.

I have long argued that a pro-life position on abortion should be embraced by any political party that cares about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings. (See my criticism of Bernie Sanders on this front in the September 9, 2015 edition of USA Today).

Last night the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.  The bill reads:

This bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.

A violator is subject to criminal penalties—a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The bill provides exceptions for an abortion: (1) that is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or (2) when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. A physician who performs or attempts to perform an abortion under an exception must comply with specified requirements.

A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill.

The bill never reached a final floor vote.  Bob Casey Jr joined two other pro-life Democratic Senators–Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana–in support of the bill.  If understand it correctly, the bill was based on scientific evidence showing that fetuses have the capacity to feel pain beginning at 20-weeks.

I am with Karen Swallow Prior on this one:

I appreciate Bob Casey Jr.’s moral courage on this vote.

For some great historical context on the pro-life movement check out our interview with Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Williams is the author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.

A David Barton Disciple is Running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania

This should be interesting.

Rick Saccone, a state representative from Pennsylvania’s 39th Legislative District, is running for Senate in the hopes of gaining the GOP nomination and defeating incumbent Bob Casey in 2018.

This is interesting for readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home because Saccone is one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.  (If you don’t know David Barton, click on this link and read some of our posts about him).

In fact, Saccone will kick off his campaign at a rally in the state capitol rotunda on February 27th.  Guess who will be introducing him:

I have never heard Barton speak live.  I live ten minutes from the capitol.  I could take off my history hat and put on my journalism hat and go “cover” this event for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  But, alas, I will be teaching American history on that day and at that time. 🙂

Here is Saccone speaking from the Barton playbook:

And here are some of his tweets: