Biden on the HHS Mandate: The Vice President’s Response was Two-Faced

I continue to read more and more from Catholics upset with Joe Biden’s defense of the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate in the vice-presidential debate. I got news for you. It’s worse than you think.

During the debate, Biden’s opponent Paul Ryan challenged the HHS mandate: “Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals. Our Church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties.”

As Ryan spoke, Biden smirked, rolled his eyes, and shouted back: “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear: No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital—none has to refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

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No, it is not, as the USCCB explained the next morning in a statement. The bishops declared: “This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.”

Joe Biden was wrong, and blatantly so. That was obvious to anyone with even remote knowledge of this issue. And it’s hard to imagine that Biden, a “pro-choice Catholic,” could not have known he was wrong. In fact, worse, Biden has privately expressed misgivings with the policy—and yet defended it anyway.

Consider, for instance, an important September 1 article in the New York Times, titled, “The Other Power in the West Wing.” The article is about the extraordinarily powerful Valerie Jarrett, far and away Barack Obama’s most influential adviser. I’ve written a lot on Jarrett, including a 5,000-word feature for American Spectator in the summer of 2011. No one rivals Jarrett’s impact on both Barack and Michelle Obama.

The Times article starts with that point, calling Jarrett “the Obamas’ first friend,” with “unmatched access.” She is the “driving force in some of the most significant domestic policy decisions of the president’s first term.”

The Times illustrated the point by focusing on the HHS mandate that would (as the Times correctly noted) “require employers to provide health insurance that covered birth control.” The Times emphasized that the Catholic Church was seeking “a broad exemption in the name of religious liberty.”

How does Joe Biden fit in?

According to the Times, there was a split in the White House between Valerie Jarrett and HHS head Kathleen Sebelius (a Roman Catholic) vs. Chief of Staff Bill Daley (also Roman Catholic) and Vice President Joe Biden. The Times said: “[Valerie Jarrett] would ultimately outmaneuver not only Mr. Daley but also the vice president in her effort to include the broadest possible contraception coverage in the administration’s health care overhaul.”

From the Times’ description, it is unclear if Biden had moral objections, though he clearly had political concerns. The Times stated: “Catholics, a group Mr. Obama won in 2008, make up more than a quarter of the electorate. Though most personally support birth control, Mr. Daley and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. worried about how forcing church-affiliated organizations to pay for it would play. Moreover, they felt that the rule put important Catholic allies, in the health care fight, in a tough position, and potentially violated a law banning regulations that impose a substantial burden on religious expression. Mr. Biden arranged for Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York to meet with the president and express the church’s view.”

I have no doubt this is correct. The Times is confirming what other sources, including Politico, have reported on Biden’s internal opposition.

This means that Joe Biden privately did good work, whatever his motivation. Unfortunately, it means he didn’t do good work during the vice-presidential debate. Quite the contrary, during the debate, he misrepresented the mandate, and was factually wrong before a huge audience, surely convincing countless Catholic Democrats that the HHS mandate has been overblown as a threat. At the debate, Joe Biden unwaveringly supported the mandate, towing the party line and falling on his sword for Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett and Kathleen Sebelius. He did so before millions of fellow Catholics, and at the expense of his Church and religious liberty.

So, yet again, on another abortion/life issue, Joe Biden has some serious explaining to do. During the debate, he couldn’t shut up. Maybe he could pause now to address this question, and the major errors and confusion he has generated.


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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