NBC's Heidi Przybyla Calls Democrat/Ex-Klansman Robert Byrd a 'Conservative'

June 6th, 2019 4:45 PM

NBC correspondent Heidi Przybyla was on the Wednesday edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe to talk about her article detailing former Vice President Joe Biden's record on abortion. The newsworthy information contained in her article was that Biden has flipped back to supporting the Hyde Amendment after saying "It can't stay" a couple of weeks ago.

During the segment, Przybyla game a brief history of the Hyde Amendment. She said that there was "a raging debate" at the time over what exceptions would be included under the amendment. Biden, according to Przybyla, aligned himself, "with conservatives like Jesse Helms, with conservatives like Robert Byrd from West Virginia."



Robert Byrd, of course, was not a Republican like Jesse Helms. He was the Democratic Senator from West Virginia from 1959 until his death in 2010. He was once also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Byrd's Democratic collegues apparently did not agree with Przbyla's "conservative" label as they made him their Senate leader during the Reagan years, despite his past history as a Klansman.

As for Byrd's "conservative" abortion record, Byrd voted against a proposed 1982 Constitutional Amendment proposed by Orrin Hatch to reverse Roe v. Wade. Byrd voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in 2004, which would have recognized the unborn child as a legal victim in the event of a violent crime. Byrd had a mixed record on partial-birth abortion, voting against a ban in 1996, but for a ban in 2003.

When Byrd died in 2010, his lifetime American Conservative Union rating was 28 percent -- which is "conservative" if you're comparing him to Bernie Sanders, but not next to Jesse Helms. 

Przybyla's labeling Byrd as a conservative shows two problems. First, it shows just how far the Democratic Party has shifted on abortion to where what was once a fairly consensus position-- that federal funds should not be used to subsidize abortion-- has become solely a "conservative" position. Second, it shows a general laziness that assumes that the old southern Democrats who opposed the Civil Rights Act and related legislation must have been conservatives, despite the fact that some of them, such as Byrd, would arrive at high positions of leadership in the Democratic Party.

Here is a transcript for her June 5 appearance:


Morning Joe

6:52 AM ET

HEIDI PRZYBYLA: But in this case at the time that the Hyde amendment was conceived, there was a raging debate over what the exceptions should be for a federally funded abortion. In this case Joe Biden specifically aligned himself with more conservative Republicans and Democrats in opposing any exceptions for rape and incest. So just to be clear, we're talking about medicated funding abortion for poor women here. These were votes that were taken in the late '80s -- or in the late '70s, early '80s, and Joe Biden in this case did align with conservatives like Jesse Helms, with conservatives like Robert Byrd from West Virginia, where some of the more liberal Northeastern Catholics like Ted Kennedy, like Pat Moynihan did support those exceptions. 

The second thing we discovered exclusively, Willie, is in the current context of the 2020 debate, Biden does stand alone in continuing to support that Hyde Amendment which bans federal funding for abortion with some rare exceptions, including the life of the mother, including rape and incest now. So that sets him apart from all of his competitors. The female competitors for example, who are all senators, co-sponsoring legislation to repeal Hyde and the reason this is happening now, Willie, is because of all of these state laws which are seeking to essentially end abortion in some of these southern states and these competitors and these female senators feel a way of protecting Roeis by codifying Hyde among other legislation. You heard Biden say there that if it comes to it, he himself would also support legislation to codify Roe, but right now he’s not there in terms of the number one, most obvious way to that which is through the Hyde Amendment.