How Biden Has Responded To The Trump-Ukraine Matter

Sep 27, 2019
Originally published on September 27, 2019 7:09 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former Vice President Joe Biden is in Las Vegas today for a town hall. It's the first full-scale campaign event he's held since Democrats move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. And of course, Biden is a key figure in that story. He's a potential rival to the president in the 2020 election and, apparently, enough of a threat to Trump that the president repeatedly asked Ukraine's leader to investigate Biden and his son. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is with Biden in Nevada, and he's on the line now.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: How is Biden responding to all of this?

DETROW: Notably, he's been pretty restrained and on message. He hasn't held many events this week. It's mostly been fundraising. He had that brief, four-minute statement early in the week responding to all this, and he was on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC earlier this week. Biden has mostly been criticizing Trump for an abuse of presidential power. And when it comes to defending himself, he's sticking to very short, direct statements, like what he said here on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JOE BIDEN: This is not about me and my family. There's not one single, solitary, legitimate journalist in the world who's given any credibility to this. They've debunked all of what he's had to say for the past - since Giuliani started this a while ago.

DETROW: And that is true. All reporting on this shows that Biden's pressure to Ukraine to fire the prosecutor was in line with U.S. foreign policy, with what many European Union countries wanted to see. And there is no evidence there was any investigation into the Ukrainian gas company his son, Hunter, was on board - was on the board of.

SHAPIRO: So the facts here are pretty clear. There's no evidence that Biden did anything improper. And yet, President Trump still keeps associating Biden with possible corruption. Is there any sense of whether that could hurt or maybe even help Biden?

DETROW: And to that end, the Trump campaign just announced an $8 million ad buy with this message, which again, like we said, is just not backed by the facts. I talked to a lot of Democrats about this this week, and there's some split thinking. Some worry that a drumbeat of attacks could be a drag and that the broader conversations about Hunter Biden taking positions like that when his father was the vice president could remind some Democrats about all of the influence stories that hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden did acknowledge early in this campaign that he knows that Republicans and political opponents would attack him for Hunter Biden.

But more Democrats are also saying that this could maybe help Biden. It shows that Trump thinks he's the biggest threat. And we know that voters, Democratic voters, are so focused on electability that that idea, that Trump's most worried about Biden, could really actually help him.

SHAPIRO: How is the rest of the Democratic field responding?

DETROW: Very, very warily. They're obviously mostly focusing on President Trump. They're supporting the House Democratic impeachment inquiry. No one is taking the allegation about firing the prosecutor seriously. But when it comes to the broader influence questions, there are hesitant, careful responses, and that's best summed up by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire this week. She was asked by a reporter if she would allow a family member of her vice president to serve on a foreign board like Hunter Biden did. Here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: No. I don't...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why not?

WARREN: I don't - I don't know. I mean, I'd have to go back and look at the details on the plan.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think there could be a problem?

WARREN: I have to go back and look.

DETROW: And that's really indicative of a way a lot of the other Democratic candidates have been answering these questions this week - pretty carefully, not wanting to take any direct attacks.

SHAPIRO: So one of the big revelations this week is suddenly the primary campaign is not the most important political story (laughter) in America.

DETROW: I'm trying not to take it personally.

SHAPIRO: Well, I mean, how is that likely to affect the race as a whole?

DETROW: You know, there's broad agreement on this point. This essentially freezes the race in place right now. The focus is on D.C., not Iowa and New Hampshire. I think that could actually hurt Warren in the short term. There were a lot of polls that came out this week showing her ahead of Biden nationally and in key states. Normally, that would come with a ton of coverage about her maybe being the front-runner now. She just hasn't gotten that press attention because of everything else that's happening.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Scott Detrow with former Vice President Biden in Las Vegas.

Thank you.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.