Of the four top candidates for the Democratic nomination — Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren — Biden is the only one who has not come out for outlawing most private health insurance. But you didn’t see him defend that position or criticize his rivals over it during last week’s debate. Apparently he wasn’t willing to take the risk of explicitly taking on the left wing of the party on the issue, even when a significant number of Democrats and most of the general public is on his side.
Now he’s taking that risk. In a CNN interview he criticized single payer: “[I]f they like their employer-based insurance, which a lot of unions broke their neck to get, a lot of people like theirs, they shouldn’t have to give it up.” He also differentiated himself from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting (accurately) that the Democratic candidates who gave the party a House majority last November are to her right.
He staked out more centrist territory than some of his rivals on immigration, too, declaring himself against the decriminalization of illegal immigration. (He may also be trying to reposition himself on health coverage for illegal immigrants by making a distinction between emergency care, which he supports and has been legally mandatory for decades, and taxpayer-provided insurance, which he may not support; but the transcript leaves his thinking on this issue unclear.)
But Biden took one position on health care that might not go over with the public. He wants to bring back the individual mandate. He says it would be popular “compared to what’s being offered.” Whether he meant it would be popular compared to single payer or President Trump’s health care policies or both, I’m not sure.