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Category: Politics

Women Welcome Obama’s Choice of Biden

| August 23, 2008

Leaders of key women’s rights groups breathed a sigh of relief at Barack Obama’s selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate.

Biden is a known commodity. He has a track record. He has championed women’s rights. In 1994, he not only won over conservatives to enact the 1994 Violence Against Women Act with massive support, he got $1.6 billion in federal funds for the omnibus bill.

He is a Catholic who backs Roe V. Wade, opposed requiring parental signoffs for minors getting abortion but voted for bans on late-term abortions. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave him a 60 percent score in their 2007 critique of members of Congress. This is falls short of the ratings for Obama and his chief primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, but his voting record is far stronger on these issues than that of the staunchly anti-abortion Republican Senator John McCain.

NARAL president Nancy Keenan said of Biden in a statement, “While we have not agreed with him on every vote, we have a longstanding relationship with Senator Biden that is open, positive, and constructive, and we are confident this will continue in a new administration under Senator Obama’s pro-choice leadership.

“We’re celebrating,” said Alice Cohan of the Feminist Majority. “He’s a very strong addition to the ticket.”

Asked if Biden’s selection would influence Clinton loyalists who have talked of sitting it out or voting for McCain, Cohan said, “The thing that is important for all of us to look at is that there are choices here. The alternative [to Obama-Biden] is McCain and, certainly on women’s rights issues, McCain is an enemy.”

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Biden also worked closely with Feminist Majority in getting funding for projects aimed at women and girls so they could take advantage of the end of Taliban-imposed restrictions on women in public life and girls going to schools.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women’s political action committee, noted that Clinton was NOW’s first choice, and the choice of 18 million voters, and they are glad her name will be put into nomination at next week’s convention.

But Biden is “a friend of women and a strong selection,” Gandy said, and “we know that Senator Biden will bring the crucial issue of violence prevention to the forefront” in the fall campaign.

In an interview, Gandy noted that Biden had been the point person in the women’s rights groups’ successful campaign against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. However feminists thought in the later battle against Clarence Thomas’s nominiation, Biden was slow in crediting Anita Hill’s testimony against him.

The 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women act sealed his reputation, however, not just as an advocate but as someone who educated and courted the most conservative members of the Senate to win overwhelming acceptance of the “principles at stake in the omnibus bill.

“He ignored the nay-sayers who said you shouldn’t ask for so much, you can’t get it. He said ‘we’re going to ask for what we need,’” recalled Gandy. He got it: multiple provisions to strengthen safety and security for women, including new tools to use in combating sexual assaults, funding for shelters for battered women, upgraded lighting on college campuses, and programs to educate police officers and judges about sexual assault. And much more.

Biden also was instrumental in getting solid startup funding for the act. This was the first women’s rights initiative to receive more than a billion dollars in federal money. When the act came up for new funding, that amount was increased to $3.3 billion and provisions were strengthened.

Not everyone is sanguine about the impact of Biden on the ticket.

Alma Morales Riojas, president and chief executive of the national Latina organization MANA, knows Biden’s depth of experience in Congress and especially in foreign affairs. She knows the “considerable contributions” he has made on key issues.

“But I don’t know what that does in answering concerns some women have, the disappointment from some supporters of Clinton,” Riojas said.

She says MANA “remains concerned about how she was treated” in the campaign. By not choosing her for a vice presidential slot, it “somehow sends a signal that her [adverse] treatment never happened.”

Hispanics had sided overwhelmingly with Clinton during the primaries and Riojas said that in her travels nationally, “there is a big concern about where Hispanics are going to be,” despite opinion polls that indicate most have shifted to Obama. “I think Hispanics are still waiting,” especially to hear the candidates’ policies on immigration.

As a nonprofit, MANA does not endorse candidates and is part of a coalition presenting Hispanic issue platforms at both conventions in the coming weeks.

Although Biden is a tad too garrulous for many, he can be blunt and straight-talking in his criticism. This will be put to the test in the fall campaign, if he takes on an attack-dog role so Obama can stay above the fray.

In assessing Biden’s ability to do this, the website today quoted Biden’s pollster in his short-lived presidential campaign, Celinda Lake: “He knows McCain better than anyone else. He intimidates McCain more than anyone else. He can call McCain out better than anyone else on some of his positions.”

Tags: Joe Biden