At events in Iowa on Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at President Donald Trump over the president’s allegations that “as vice president Biden demanded Ukraine fire a state prosecutor who was investigating a gas company where Biden’s son held a board position,” per Politico.
Biden has spoken infrequently on the accusations, which surfaced this week along with reports that the Trump administration may have pressed Ukrainian officials for information about both Joe Biden and his son. Democratic operatives suggested to both Politico and CNN that Biden was avoiding the topic out of fear that it could damage his own reputation and bring his son — who has had his share of troubles in recent years — back into the spotlight.
The Daily Beast reports that other Democrats mostly avoided the topic, too, out of fear that the story depicts Biden as Donald Trump’s most feared opponent, adding to his appeal.
That all changed at Democratic events in the first-in-the-nation caucus state Saturday, with Biden grabbing the microphone at every event he attended to fire back at the president, despite knowing that it might draw attention to his decades-long struggle to put his son on the straight and narrow.
Biden’s focus wasn’t on the issue itself, though, but whether Trump was inappropriately communicating with foreign leaders — something Biden seems to believe is a habit.
“You should be asking him the question: Why is he on the phone with a foreign leader, trying to intimidate a foreign leader?” Biden “snapped” at reporters who asked him about the claims, according to Politico. “This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power.”
“You should be looking at Trump,” Biden added, when pressed. “Everybody looked at this and everybody who’s looked at it said there’s nothing there. Ask the right question.”
The Biden campaign also issued a statement, again redirecting the attention to Trump: “Any article, segment, analysis and commentary that does not demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump’s claims, and in fact that they are wholly discredited, is misleading readers and viewers,” the press release read.
It’s a significant move for Biden and shows that his campaign learned from Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 bid that it’s easier to confront Trump’s accusations head on rather than let them fester. It’s also a desperate effort; a poll that emerged Sunday shows Biden trailing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in Iowa for the first time. The Des Moines Register’s weekly assessment of the field has Warren pulling ahead of the former vice president by two points, 22% to 20%, and Biden slipping in the ranks.
If the trend continues nationally, Biden could lose control of the lead — and the presumption that he will be the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee.
The campaign definitely senses danger. Since early September, Biden and his team have been managing media expectations in Iowa, telling reporters that the Biden campaign did “not need to win Iowa” to be secure in their lead, according to a CNN report from September.
“Do we think we have to win Iowa? No,” a Biden aide told reporters, according to CNN. “Do we want to win Iowa? Yes, we do. We think we’re going to win; we know it’s going to be a dogfight. The same thing is true in New Hampshire.”
That’s not entirely true. A front-runner, as CNN points out, needs to run in front. Hillary Clinton’s inability to solidify her role as the front-runner in both Iowa and New Hampshire ultimately sowed division in the Democratic ranks and put her position in jeopardy within the Democratic party until nearly the end of primary season.
Biden and his surrogates did not address the Ukraine issue on the Sunday morning talk shows but President Donald Trump did make a statement on the issue, telling reporters as he departed for a trip to view flooding in Houston, Texas, that he “said absolutely nothing wrong,” that interactions with the Ukrainian government were “perfect.”
“There was no quid pro quo, there was nothing,” Trump said.