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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

November 13: Impeachment Trial Could Seriously Constrain Senators Running for President

My efforts to understand and explain the murky process for impeachment trials led me to this realization which I shared at New York:

[F]or six particular Democratic presidential candidates and their campaigns (Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren), the possibility of a Senate impeachment trial occurring during the early stages of the caucus/primary season represents a potential calamity. And as the Washington Post reports, that’s a real possibility, particularly if the House drags its feet for reasons ranging from administration obstruction to the desire not to spoil the festive holiday spirit:

“House Democrats increasingly expect their impeachment effort against President Trump to stretch well past Thanksgiving, possibly forcing a Senate trial into January or later — a timeline that could disrupt the final weeks of campaigning before the party starts to choose its nominee.

“House leaders had initially hoped to hold a floor vote before the Nov. 28 holiday so the Senate could hold trial before Christmas. But the surprising number of witnesses agreeing to testify behind closed doors in the Capitol over the past few weeks has extended the timeline and sparked a debate over whether prolonged impeachment proceedings are politically prudent.”

More recently House Democrats have been talking about Xmas as a practical deadline for concluding their part of the impeachment process, which means the beginning of any Senate trial will extend well into 2020.

The standing Senate rules do require a fairly expeditious beginning for impeachment trials after the House has passed articles of impeachment, so it’s not like Mitch McConnell can deviously get it rolling the night of the Iowa Caucuses (February 3). But if the House really doesn’t get its part done until near the end of the year, you could easily see a trial running through the critical pre-Iowa stretch of frenzied activity. The Clinton trial, which was about as cut-and-dried as any presidential impeachment trial could be, lasted from January 7 until February 12, 1999. Let’s say for the sake of argument a Trump trial begins and ends precisely on those dates in 2020. It would encompass both the Iowa caucuses (February 3) and the New Hampshire primary (February 11). If it started later or ran longer, it could directly interfere with the Nevada caucuses (February 22), the South Carolina primary (February 29), or — worst-case scenario — the 12 states (including California and Texas) holding primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday (March 3).

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who is presumably privy to Mitch McConnell’s thinking, said on November 12 that he anticipated a six-to-eight week trial. That would be longer than the Clinton trial.

An impeachment trial doesn’t allow for time off to do campaign events: The Senate rules require that once the trial begins, it must stay in session six days a week (Burr suggested a daily schedule running from 12:30 to 6:30). Perhaps some senators think they could make more hay at an impeachment trial than they could hitting the potluck circuit in Iowa or working street corners in New Hampshire, as the Post suggests:

“Several senators running for president, including Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a former state prosecutor, are likely to try to use a trial of Trump as a showcase for their candidacy.”

Unfortunately, the current Senate rules compel virtual silence from senators during the trial itself, though they are free to run their mouths before it begins and after it ends. During the trial, unless precedents are ignored, all senators get to do is to send written questions to be posed by the House managers or the president’s attorneys, and then stand up and vote “guilty” or “not guilty” when the deal goes down. Not much room for showboating there.

Now I suppose it’s possible the rules could be interpreted in a way that would allow Kamala Harris and her senatorial rivals to leave the Capitol building each night of the trial, go two blocks away, and make brilliant presentations on the case against Trump or anything else that popped into their heads. But that’s likely going to be subject to ad hoc impeachment trial rules that a majority of the Senate — e.g., the Republican majority — will impose. It’s doubtful GOP senators will feel inclined to accommodate the political needs of their Democratic colleagues. In talking about the precedents dictating silence, McConnell said earlier this month:

“McConnell … warned that senators won’t be allowed to speak because they are jurors. McConnell said such silence ‘would be good therapy for a number of them.’”

If an impeachment trial is a headache for those six senators (or however many of them are still in the race, if any, when this all happens), it could be a boon to non-senators — particularly Joe Biden, who can bloviate to his heart’s desire about the lessons he learned on impeachment and all the issues involving Trump during his 44 years as a member or presiding officer of the Upper Chamber.

For candidates and their staff, all these contingencies make the already difficult task of planning and executing a campaign in the hothouse atmosphere of this cycle impossibly tricky. And for senators who want to be president, knowing that Mitch McConnell and his troops will get the final say on some of the most crucial questions of timing and procedure is like knowing that Satan gets one final shot at your soul right there at the Pearly Gates.


Impeachment Trial Could Seriously Constrain Senators Running for President

My efforts to understand and explain the murky process for impeachment trials led me to this realization which I shared at New York:

[F]or six particular Democratic presidential candidates and their campaigns (Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren), the possibility of a Senate impeachment trial occurring during the early stages of the caucus/primary season represents a potential calamity. And as the Washington Post reports, that’s a real possibility, particularly if the House drags its feet for reasons ranging from administration obstruction to the desire not to spoil the festive holiday spirit:

“House Democrats increasingly expect their impeachment effort against President Trump to stretch well past Thanksgiving, possibly forcing a Senate trial into January or later — a timeline that could disrupt the final weeks of campaigning before the party starts to choose its nominee.

“House leaders had initially hoped to hold a floor vote before the Nov. 28 holiday so the Senate could hold trial before Christmas. But the surprising number of witnesses agreeing to testify behind closed doors in the Capitol over the past few weeks has extended the timeline and sparked a debate over whether prolonged impeachment proceedings are politically prudent.”

More recently House Democrats have been talking about Xmas as a practical deadline for concluding their part of the impeachment process, which means the beginning of any Senate trial will extend well into 2020.

The standing Senate rules do require a fairly expeditious beginning for impeachment trials after the House has passed articles of impeachment, so it’s not like Mitch McConnell can deviously get it rolling the night of the Iowa Caucuses (February 3). But if the House really doesn’t get its part done until near the end of the year, you could easily see a trial running through the critical pre-Iowa stretch of frenzied activity. The Clinton trial, which was about as cut-and-dried as any presidential impeachment trial could be, lasted from January 7 until February 12, 1999. Let’s say for the sake of argument a Trump trial begins and ends precisely on those dates in 2020. It would encompass both the Iowa caucuses (February 3) and the New Hampshire primary (February 11). If it started later or ran longer, it could directly interfere with the Nevada caucuses (February 22), the South Carolina primary (February 29), or — worst-case scenario — the 12 states (including California and Texas) holding primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday (March 3).

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who is presumably privy to Mitch McConnell’s thinking, said on November 12 that he anticipated a six-to-eight week trial. That would be longer than the Clinton trial.

An impeachment trial doesn’t allow for time off to do campaign events: The Senate rules require that once the trial begins, it must stay in session six days a week (Burr suggested a daily schedule running from 12:30 to 6:30). Perhaps some senators think they could make more hay at an impeachment trial than they could hitting the potluck circuit in Iowa or working street corners in New Hampshire, as the Post suggests:

“Several senators running for president, including Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a former state prosecutor, are likely to try to use a trial of Trump as a showcase for their candidacy.”

Unfortunately, the current Senate rules compel virtual silence from senators during the trial itself, though they are free to run their mouths before it begins and after it ends. During the trial, unless precedents are ignored, all senators get to do is to send written questions to be posed by the House managers or the president’s attorneys, and then stand up and vote “guilty” or “not guilty” when the deal goes down. Not much room for showboating there.

Now I suppose it’s possible the rules could be interpreted in a way that would allow Kamala Harris and her senatorial rivals to leave the Capitol building each night of the trial, go two blocks away, and make brilliant presentations on the case against Trump or anything else that popped into their heads. But that’s likely going to be subject to ad hoc impeachment trial rules that a majority of the Senate — e.g., the Republican majority — will impose. It’s doubtful GOP senators will feel inclined to accommodate the political needs of their Democratic colleagues. In talking about the precedents dictating silence, McConnell said earlier this month:

“McConnell … warned that senators won’t be allowed to speak because they are jurors. McConnell said such silence ‘would be good therapy for a number of them.’”

If an impeachment trial is a headache for those six senators (or however many of them are still in the race, if any, when this all happens), it could be a boon to non-senators — particularly Joe Biden, who can bloviate to his heart’s desire about the lessons he learned on impeachment and all the issues involving Trump during his 44 years as a member or presiding officer of the Upper Chamber.

For candidates and their staff, all these contingencies make the already difficult task of planning and executing a campaign in the hothouse atmosphere of this cycle impossibly tricky. And for senators who want to be president, knowing that Mitch McConnell and his troops will get the final say on some of the most crucial questions of timing and procedure is like knowing that Satan gets one final shot at your soul right there at the Pearly Gates.


November 8: The Perfect Xmas Present For Democrats: Impeaching Trump

As the timetable for the impeachment process becomes clearer, I’m trying to keep a close eye on it at New York:

[I]mpeaching a president is a job with a lot of moving parts and vast elements of uncertainty. It’s even more complicated when it could overlap with an extremely intense election in which the president being impeached is seeking another term. But there’s a new sense of purpose among House Democrats about getting their part of the process done by Christmas, as CNN reports:

“[I]n a series of moves this week, Democrats have shown they are rapidly moving to complete the proceedings by Christmas, something that could result in Trump being just the third president to be impeached in history.

“The schedule became apparent in recent days after House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, announced that public hearings would begin next week and also suggested Thursday there’s a limit to the witnesses they would call for the public hearings.

“Plus Democrats also withdrew a subpoena of a former White House official to ensure their proceedings were not delayed by a court battle. Schiff also decided Thursday not to subpoena someone who could have been a star witness – former national security adviser John Bolton, who privately raised concerns about the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment probe. Schiff’s decision came after the former Trump aide’s counsel warned they would sue over any subpoena.”

In other words, House leaders, convinced they have enough to impeach Trump already, will take what they can get within the next few weeks but aren’t going to slow things down to cross any t’s or dot any i’s.

“Schiff has announced that three witnesses would testify next week, and Democratic lawmakers expect at least one more week of public hearings before his panel likely to follow on the week of November 18.

“The House is then scheduled to take a recess for Thanksgiving week, giving time for Schiff’s committee — along with House Oversight and House Foreign Affairs — to finish a report detailing their findings and recommendations of their investigation.

“At that point, the House Judiciary Committee would take the lead on the impeachment push — potentially in the first week of December. Democratic sources expect that committee to have a public hearing, possibly in that week, before it votes on articles of impeachment. That vote could occur in committee in the first or second week of December, the sources said.”

Presumably this timetable would accommodate a non-Ukraine-related article of impeachment or two if House Democrats decide it’s wise to include one. After all, other committees were instructed by Pelosi back in September to consider such possible articles. If, say, the obstruction of justice suggested in the Mueller Report seems actionable, most of the evidentiary work has already been done. One possible complication involves unresolved differences over federal spending that could in theory lead to another holiday partial government shutdown like the one that occurred last year just before Christmas. But it’s now looking like a stopgap spending bill will likely extend through December.

Clearly House members in both parties would like to get the impeachment monkey off their backs by year’s end, and onto the agenda of the Senate, which is contemplating a January trial of the president. Beyond that, Nancy Pelosi and her troops would love to give the vast majority of Democrats who want to see Trump removed from office the Christmas gift of getting halfway there via articles of impeachment.


That Perfect Xmas Present for Democrats: Impeaching Trump

As the timetable for the impeachment process becomes clearer, I’m trying to keep a close eye on it at New York:

[I]mpeaching a president is a job with a lot of moving parts and vast elements of uncertainty. It’s even more complicated when it could overlap with an extremely intense election in which the president being impeached is seeking another term. But there’s a new sense of purpose among House Democrats about getting their part of the process done by Christmas, as CNN reports:

“[I]n a series of moves this week, Democrats have shown they are rapidly moving to complete the proceedings by Christmas, something that could result in Trump being just the third president to be impeached in history.

“The schedule became apparent in recent days after House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, announced that public hearings would begin next week and also suggested Thursday there’s a limit to the witnesses they would call for the public hearings.

“Plus Democrats also withdrew a subpoena of a former White House official to ensure their proceedings were not delayed by a court battle. Schiff also decided Thursday not to subpoena someone who could have been a star witness – former national security adviser John Bolton, who privately raised concerns about the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment probe. Schiff’s decision came after the former Trump aide’s counsel warned they would sue over any subpoena.”

In other words, House leaders, convinced they have enough to impeach Trump already, will take what they can get within the next few weeks but aren’t going to slow things down to cross any t’s or dot any i’s.

“Schiff has announced that three witnesses would testify next week, and Democratic lawmakers expect at least one more week of public hearings before his panel likely to follow on the week of November 18.

“The House is then scheduled to take a recess for Thanksgiving week, giving time for Schiff’s committee — along with House Oversight and House Foreign Affairs — to finish a report detailing their findings and recommendations of their investigation.

“At that point, the House Judiciary Committee would take the lead on the impeachment push — potentially in the first week of December. Democratic sources expect that committee to have a public hearing, possibly in that week, before it votes on articles of impeachment. That vote could occur in committee in the first or second week of December, the sources said.”

Presumably this timetable would accommodate a non-Ukraine-related article of impeachment or two if House Democrats decide it’s wise to include one. After all, other committees were instructed by Pelosi back in September to consider such possible articles. If, say, the obstruction of justice suggested in the Mueller Report seems actionable, most of the evidentiary work has already been done. One possible complication involves unresolved differences over federal spending that could in theory lead to another holiday partial government shutdown like the one that occurred last year just before Christmas. But it’s now looking like a stopgap spending bill will likely extend through December.

Clearly House members in both parties would like to get the impeachment monkey off their backs by year’s end, and onto the agenda of the Senate, which is contemplating a January trial of the president. Beyond that, Nancy Pelosi and her troops would love to give the vast majority of Democrats who want to see Trump removed from office the Christmas gift of getting halfway there via articles of impeachment.


November 7: Two 2020 Lessons From Virginia’s 2019

Amid the mostly-good offyear election results from earlier this week, Virginia’s stood out for me, as I wrote about at New York:

On Tuesday, Virginia Democrats regained control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. From one perspective, this Democratic victory seemed inevitable and uneventful. The Donkey Party made big gains in the lower House in 2017 (though a lottery drawing in a tied election went to the GOP and denied Democrats control) and performed very well in federal elections in 2018, flipping three U.S. House seats. Republicans don’t hold any statewide office, haven’t carried the state in a presidential election since 2004, haven’t won a U.S. Senate race since 2002, and have lost the last two gubernatorial contests as well.

But the results could have significant implications beyond the fact that Democrats now hold their first governing “trifecta” in the Commonwealth since 1993 and will control decennial redistricting for both the U.S. House and the state legislature.

Lest we forget, Virginia was on the short list of targets for a Trump reelection campaign determined to expand the map of battleground states beyond Florida, North Carolina, and the three Rust Belt states Trump won by an eyelash in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). That’s not looking very likely right now.

More broadly, the suburban base of the Democratic victory in Virginia means GOP losses in areas with well-educated former Republican voters we saw in 2018 may not be self-correcting via some reversion to the mean. Democrats now hold all of the state legislative seats in Northern Virginia. If such voters are about to trend back in Donald Trump’s direction — in Virginia and elsewhere — the evidence is so far lacking. And that could be a very big deal in 2020, as Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales observes:

“Tuesday’s results continued to demonstrate GOP problems in the suburbs since Trump took office. The latest was in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati suburbs, where Bevin won in 2015 and Beshear won in 2019. Or in northern Mississippi, in the Memphis suburbs where the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points to 20 points, according to Ryan Matsumoto, a contributing analyst to Inside Elections. These are just the latest pieces of evidence after Democrat Dan McCready’s overperformance in the Charlotte suburbs from 2018 to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. It should be particularly concerning for President Trump in his efforts to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas in 2020.”

[T]he inability of Virginia’s Republicans to make the off-year elections revolve around Democratic scandals in Richmond — where the Democratic governor and attorney general were found to have appeared in blackface photos back in the day, and the Democratic lieutenant governor was accused of sexual assault by two women — is significant, too. If there was ever a circumstance in which changing the subject from Donald Trump’s issues was available, it was in the Old Dominion. It didn’t happen, and may not happen nationally despite the efforts of Republicans to refocus attention on Joe or Hunter Biden or alleged deep state conspiracies against Trump. This president may just blot out the sky with his bizarre personality and egregious misdeeds. If that’s true in 2019, it will likely still be true when he’s on the ballot next year.


Two 2020 Lessons From Virginia’s 2019

Amid the mostly-good offyear election results from earlier this week, Virginia’s stood out for me, as I wrote about at New York:

On Tuesday, Virginia Democrats regained control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. From one perspective, this Democratic victory seemed inevitable and uneventful. The Donkey Party made big gains in the lower House in 2017 (though a lottery drawing in a tied election went to the GOP and denied Democrats control) and performed very well in federal elections in 2018, flipping three U.S. House seats. Republicans don’t hold any statewide office, haven’t carried the state in a presidential election since 2004, haven’t won a U.S. Senate race since 2002, and have lost the last two gubernatorial contests as well.

But the results could have significant implications beyond the fact that Democrats now hold their first governing “trifecta” in the Commonwealth since 1993 and will control decennial redistricting for both the U.S. House and the state legislature.

Lest we forget, Virginia was on the short list of targets for a Trump reelection campaign determined to expand the map of battleground states beyond Florida, North Carolina, and the three Rust Belt states Trump won by an eyelash in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). That’s not looking very likely right now.

More broadly, the suburban base of the Democratic victory in Virginia means GOP losses in areas with well-educated former Republican voters we saw in 2018 may not be self-correcting via some reversion to the mean. Democrats now hold all of the state legislative seats in Northern Virginia. If such voters are about to trend back in Donald Trump’s direction — in Virginia and elsewhere — the evidence is so far lacking. And that could be a very big deal in 2020, as Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales observes:

“Tuesday’s results continued to demonstrate GOP problems in the suburbs since Trump took office. The latest was in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati suburbs, where Bevin won in 2015 and Beshear won in 2019. Or in northern Mississippi, in the Memphis suburbs where the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points to 20 points, according to Ryan Matsumoto, a contributing analyst to Inside Elections. These are just the latest pieces of evidence after Democrat Dan McCready’s overperformance in the Charlotte suburbs from 2018 to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. It should be particularly concerning for President Trump in his efforts to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas in 2020.”

[T]he inability of Virginia’s Republicans to make the off-year elections revolve around Democratic scandals in Richmond — where the Democratic governor and attorney general were found to have appeared in blackface photos back in the day, and the Democratic lieutenant governor was accused of sexual assault by two women — is significant, too. If there was ever a circumstance in which changing the subject from Donald Trump’s issues was available, it was in the Old Dominion. It didn’t happen, and may not happen nationally despite the efforts of Republicans to refocus attention on Joe or Hunter Biden or alleged deep state conspiracies against Trump. This president may just blot out the sky with his bizarre personality and egregious misdeeds. If that’s true in 2019, it will likely still be true when he’s on the ballot next year.


November 1: Red Scare 2019

Something’s happening in the runup to the November 5 offyear elections that could represent a bad sign of Republican intentions for 2020, so I wrote about it at New York:

Often candidates and parties choose to reach out to marginal voters in their base with vein-charring messages essentially suggesting that civilization as we know it is at risk if the Other Party wins a particular election. But we are seeing signs from 2019’s off-year elections that Republicans are really going to town with claims that even mild-mannered, moderate Democrats are actually agents of sinister totalitarian forces.

That this is happening in a state like Kentucky isn’t surprising. It’s a very conservative, energy-producing state, home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a Republican-controlled legislature. The last five GOP presidential nominees have won the state by a minimum of 15 points (Donald Trump won by 29 points). So anything that promotes maximum partisan and ideological polarization, and high partisan turnout, is good for the GOP there.


Red Scare 2019

Something’s happening in the runup to the November 5 offyear elections that could represent a bad sign of Republican intentions for 2020, so I wrote about it at New York:

Often candidates and parties choose to reach out to marginal voters in their base with vein-charring messages essentially suggesting that civilization as we know it is at risk if the Other Party wins a particular election. But we are seeing signs from 2019’s off-year elections that Republicans are really going to town with claims that even mild-mannered, moderate Democrats are actually agents of sinister totalitarian forces.

That this is happening in a state like Kentucky isn’t surprising. It’s a very conservative, energy-producing state, home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a Republican-controlled legislature. The last five GOP presidential nominees have won the state by a minimum of 15 points (Donald Trump won by 29 points). So anything that promotes maximum partisan and ideological polarization, and high partisan turnout, is good for the GOP there.


October 30: Here We Go Again: Biden Denied Communion in South Carolina

I wrote about an old problem for pro-choice Catholic Democrats at New York this week:

[A] priest in South Carolina announced that he had denied Communion to Joe Biden on Sunday, according to WPDE:

“The pastor and priest of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence refused to give communion this past Sunday to Former Vice President and Presidential Hopeful Joe Biden …

“The church’s pastor, Rev. Robert E. Morey, released the following statement on the matter:

“’Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to Former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.'”

This isn’t a new experience for Biden: In 2008, when he was running for vice-president on a ticket with Barack Obama, the bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, went out of his way to make it known that the then-senator would be banned from taking Communion in his diocese. The subject became a big and noisy deal in 2004 when two Catholic bishops made a similar declaration with respect to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, just the third Catholic (after Al Smith and John F. Kennedy) to head a national party ticket. There was some talk of denying 2016 Democratic veep candidate Tim Kaine access to Communion over his positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. Most recently, the bishop of Springfield, Illinois, barred Communion for any of the state legislators who supported a pro-choice bill. Even where the hierarchy or individual priests have not made such abrasive statements, pro-choice Catholic pols are often encouraged quietly to stay away from the altar.

The basis of this sort of excommunication is a provision of church law, Canon 915, that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Many Catholic leaders are reluctant to single out pro-choice pols for this sanction, given the strong tendency of anti-abortion pols to run afoul of Church teachings on important issues ranging from capital punishment to immigration to climate change.

Biden, of course, has gotten some heat in Democratic circles for long-ago anti-abortion views, and for a more recent position supporting the Hyde Amendment barring use of public funds for abortion services (which he finally reversed in June). His willingness to put up with harassment from the odd bishop or priest will probably make him more credible in feminist circles, though he probably won’t get into a big public fight with his Church, either. His campaign responded to questions about the South Carolina incident by calling it a “private matter.” As Biden surely knows by now, there’s not a lot of privacy on the presidential campaign trail.


Here We Go Again: Biden Denied Communion in South Carolina

I wrote about an old problem for pro-choice Catholic Democrats at New York this week:

[A] priest in South Carolina announced that he had denied Communion to Joe Biden on Sunday, according to WPDE:

“The pastor and priest of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence refused to give communion this past Sunday to Former Vice President and Presidential Hopeful Joe Biden …

“The church’s pastor, Rev. Robert E. Morey, released the following statement on the matter:

“’Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to Former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.'”

This isn’t a new experience for Biden: In 2008, when he was running for vice-president on a ticket with Barack Obama, the bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, went out of his way to make it known that the then-senator would be banned from taking Communion in his diocese. The subject became a big and noisy deal in 2004 when two Catholic bishops made a similar declaration with respect to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, just the third Catholic (after Al Smith and John F. Kennedy) to head a national party ticket. There was some talk of denying 2016 Democratic veep candidate Tim Kaine access to Communion over his positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. Most recently, the bishop of Springfield, Illinois, barred Communion for any of the state legislators who supported a pro-choice bill. Even where the hierarchy or individual priests have not made such abrasive statements, pro-choice Catholic pols are often encouraged quietly to stay away from the altar.

The basis of this sort of excommunication is a provision of church law, Canon 915, that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Many Catholic leaders are reluctant to single out pro-choice pols for this sanction, given the strong tendency of anti-abortion pols to run afoul of Church teachings on important issues ranging from capital punishment to immigration to climate change.

Biden, of course, has gotten some heat in Democratic circles for long-ago anti-abortion views, and for a more recent position supporting the Hyde Amendment barring use of public funds for abortion services (which he finally reversed in June). His willingness to put up with harassment from the odd bishop or priest will probably make him more credible in feminist circles, though he probably won’t get into a big public fight with his Church, either. His campaign responded to questions about the South Carolina incident by calling it a “private matter.” As Biden surely knows by now, there’s not a lot of privacy on the presidential campaign trail.