Biden Softens Death Penalty Stance in New Hampshire

Biden congratulated the state for eliminating the death penalty despite having supported it for over 30 years in the Senate

Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is softening his stance on the death penalty after strongly supporting it throughout his 30-plus years in the Senate.

During a 1992 speech, Biden discussed his criminal justice legislation and said it would be so strict it would "do everything but hang people for jaywalking." Two years later, Biden's signature 1994 crime law included dozens of offenses that would be punishable by death, according to Politico.

While Biden supported the death penalty during his tenure in the Senate, he is attempting to soften his stance. He spoke at an event in New Hampshire earlier this month where he fielded a question from an ACLU volunteer on how he would reduce the population in federal prisons. An America Rising tracker captured footage of Biden's response.

"Of a hundred prisoners behind bars, 93 are in state prisons. They are not in federal prisons," Biden said. "When I was vice president I was proud to stand with the president when he reduced the prison population in federal prisons by 3,800."

He went on to defend his 1994 crime bill, saying the volunteer has been "conditioned to say it is a bad bill."

"Instead of putting people who have not committed a violent crime, but are — you're addicted and or — you know with the opioid crisis this year, we should be putting people through drug courts into treatment and it in fact reduces crime," Biden continued. "There are some circumstances in which people should be behind bars because in fact they have  committed a heinous crime and they remain a threat to society, but to arbitrarily say I'm just going to make a commitment I will cut arbitrarily in half any or by a third or by 90 percent is not a rational way of going about it."

Near the end of his response he congratulated New Hampshire for eliminating the death penalty unprompted, saying, "By the way, congratulations to ya’ll ending the death penalty here."

When Politico reached out to Biden's campaign for a comment on Biden's position on the death penalty, they did not offer an answer or "shed light on whether he’s changed his position on the death penalty."

Back in 2000, Biden expressed his support for the death penalty during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, saying, "I support the death penalty."

"I don’t oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, but I have been fastidious … that if you are going to have a death penalty, you had better go out of your way to make sure you don’t execute an innocent person," Biden said.

Several of the other Democratic presidential candidates running against Biden have voiced their opposition to the death penalty, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), according to Politico.

Most of Biden’s Democratic opponents support abolishing—or at least halting—capital punishment. After California Gov. Gavin Newsom froze the death penalty earlier this year, Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were quick to add their support for the move. Both highlighted that defendants of color are disproportionately represented on death rows.

Others have long records of opposition: Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she didn’t think Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should face the death penalty. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee halted executions in his state; in a statement he called the death penalty "costly and capricious."

Other Democratic hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, are just as opposed.