SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) – With five days until the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden is fending off a new onslaught of GOP attacks over his son’s business overseas and facing piling pressure to show Democratic voters he can handle the incoming.
As Republicans amplified their allegations against the former vice president, accusing him of nepotism and worse in a series of charges stemming from the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the Biden campaign promised an aggressive and direct counterstrategy ahead of Monday’s first nominating contest. Biden planned an address Thursday in Iowa at the same time Trump was to stage a rally in Des Moines.
The Biden campaign was mindful that the last-minute GOP meddling in the Democratic race provides something of a preview of the election ahead should Biden be the party’s nominee. As such, it was a test of whether Iowa voters would see strength or weakness in Biden’s response.
Biden made his case Wednesday by openly mocking Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, for running a digital ad in Iowa that repeats Trumpâ€™s discredited theories about Bidenâ€™s work in Ukraine as vice president and his sonâ€™s private business dealings there. The ad came a day after Trumpâ€™s impeachment defense team repeatedly framed Hunter Bidenâ€™s tenure on an energy firm’s governing board as the real corruption in need of investigation.
â€œA senator from Florida, sitting in Washington, has decided to start running negative ads against Joe Biden just days before the Iowa caucus,â€ the elder Biden told several hundred Iowa voters in Sioux City. â€œWhat do you think thatâ€™s about? Look, itâ€™s simple,” he said, returning to an oft-used line: “Theyâ€™re smearing me … because they know if Iâ€™m the nominee, Iâ€™m going to beat Donald Trump like a drum.”
Biden adviser Anita Dunn was even more pointed, saying of the Scott ad: â€œWeâ€™ll pay him to keep it up.â€ Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz said, â€œThis is all a help to us” because it valid Trump’s fear.
Thatâ€™s quite a turn from October, when the Biden campaign sent letters to Facebook, Google and Twitter pressuring the online platforms to block ads from Trumpâ€™s reelection campaign that contained similar debunked allegations against the Bidens. But Dunn and Schultz suggest that their new posture could be the better path to turning a potentially damaging story line into an electoral asset.
“We are going to call out the lies. We are going to confront him,â€ Dunn said of how Biden will handle Trump going forward. â€œIf Joe Biden has proven one thing in this race, itâ€™s that heâ€™s the person to stand up to Donald Trump.â€
Yet there are Democrats who see the Biden controversy as a replay of 2016. In that campaign, Trump deflected myriad stories of his own conflicts of interests and business dealings by hammering away at Democrat Hillary Clinton, her use of a private email server as secretary of state and the foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation created after her husband Bill Clintonâ€™s presidency.
“Whether thereâ€™s anything to it or not, thereâ€™s going to be a lack of trust and doubt that we could end up like we did four years ago,â€ said Iowa Democrat Emma Thompson, 63, who is considering caucusing for Biden, but is also considering Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang.
These arenâ€™t perfect parallels. During the Trump-Clinton campaign, the FBI was actively investigating whether Clinton or her aides subjected classified material to disclosure, and the agency did not close the case – without any criminal charges – until well after Trump was in office. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son. The elder Bidenâ€™s efforts to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor reflected the consensus of the U.S. government and its Western allies. And thereâ€™s no evidence the U.S. government has ever actively investigated Hunter Bidenâ€™s dealings at Burisma, even under Trumpâ€™s Justice Department.
Still, Vicky Rossander, an Iowa caucus precinct captain for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, said she’s wary: â€œI don’t want to spend the whole election hearing about Burisma and Ukraine.”
Republicans appear eager to have the fight.
Besides Scott, GOP senators including Sen. Lindsey Graham have argued that Hunter Biden or the former vice president himself should be called as impeachment trial witnesses. Joe Biden has said heâ€™d comply if called, but sees his testimony as irrelevant to the charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress. Biden aides said Wednesday that they see â€œno indication of serious movementâ€ toward calling Hunter Biden or his father.
Trumpâ€™s 2016 campaign architect, Steve Bannon, confirmed in a recent Bloomberg News interview a deliberate strategy: â€œIsolate and amplify the most damaging charge against the strongest Democratic candidate and hammer into votersâ€™ minds until Election Day.â€
And Iowaâ€™s Republican Sen. Joni Ernst joined the chorus this week, emerging from the Senate proceedings to wonder aloud to reporters â€œhow this discussion today informs and influences Iowa caucus voters. … Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?â€
In Sioux City, Biden thanked Ernst for â€œscreaming the quiet part into the bullhorn.â€
â€œShe spilled the beans, didn’t she?â€ Biden said, laughing. â€œThe whole impeachment trial is about whether or not the president tried to interfere in the choice of a nominee for the Democrats.” Outlining his preferred outcome, he continued: â€œNow all caucusgoers can have a twofer. One, you can not only ruin Donald Trumpâ€™s night if I win the caucus – you can ruin Joni Ernstâ€™s night, as well.â€
___ Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Mason City, Iowa, and Sara Burnett in Chicago contributed to this report.
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