Biden Reacts To Ukraine Scandal

Sep 28, 2019
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump faces possible impeachment, largely because he pressured Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden. In his scramble to react to the news, Mr. Biden decided to walk a fine line between condemning Trump's actions but without fueling the false claims at the center of the story. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow has more from Las Vegas where Mr. Biden campaigned yesterday.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Joe Biden had a lot of choices to make this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Thank you for being here.

SIMON: On Tuesday, Biden summoned reporters to Delaware, where he delivered a prepared statement that lasted just four minutes. He tied the President's alleged pressure campaign into the big themes Biden has been running on since day one of his campaign - that Trump is a unique danger to the office of the presidency and to, as Biden often frames it, the soul of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: We have a president who believes there's no limit to his power. We have a president who believes he can do anything and get away with it. We have a president who believes he's above the law.

DETROW: Here's where things got trickier for Biden. In the phone call with Ukraine's president, Trump repeatedly referenced a debunked story about Biden - that, as vice president, Biden pressured Ukraine himself to get a prosecutor fired who had been investigating Biden's son Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian gas company's board. That isn't true. Biden did push for the firing. But it was in line with U.S. foreign policy and the wishes of several European allies. And the prosecutor had not been looking into the company. Still, Trump repeated some variation of the attack all week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He doesn't talk about Joe Biden firing a prosecutor. And if that prosecutor's not fired, he's not going to give him money from the United States of America. They don't talk about that.

DETROW: Responding to unsubstantiated Trump claims is a very familiar situation for Jennifer Palmieri, who ran communications for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

JENNIFER PALMIERI: That best argument is to not ever talk about the charges or respond to them but for him to talk about why it's happening and that you're hearing these lies because he's scared to run against me. Or you're hearing these lies because he knows he can't run on a record.

DETROW: For the most part, that's what Biden's been doing. Here he is Wednesday on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

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

BIDEN: There's not one, single, solitary, legitimate journalist in the world who's giving any credibility to this. They have debunked all of what he's had to say for the past - since Giuliani started this a while ago.

DETROW: So does all this help Biden or hurt him? Democrats inside and outside of rival campaigns are split. On one hand, there's a view that constant news stories about Biden and corruption, regardless of truth, will do damage. And there are substantive questions to ask about the jobs Hunter Biden took when his father was in office, including that position on the board of an energy company in a country that Joe Biden served as a policy pointman for.

But rival Democratic candidates are wary about going there. In New Hampshire, this week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked whether she'd allow the son or daughter of her vice president to hold a job like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why not?

WARREN: 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 with that?

WARREN: I have to go back and look.

DETROW: Other Democrats say the whole thing makes Biden look stronger. Democrats are obsessed with picking a candidate who can beat Trump after all. The Ukraine story shows the president is more worried about Biden than any other candidate. That's something Biden pointed to in Las Vegas yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING

BIDEN: And after 70 straight polls have shown me beating him, I think...

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: ...It's not - it is not surprising that I've become the object of his attention.

DETROW: Biden then moved on and shifted back to his stump speech. But he'll likely have to keep dealing with the story. Trump's campaign is now running $10 million worth of ads. And they're centered around the unproven attack against Biden at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.