Biden tries to stay on message as Trump Ukraine inquiry swirls

Tyler Pager

As Joe Biden’s name is at the epicenter of the latest impeachment battle in Washington that dominated the headlines, the former vice president’s campaign signaled it would spend the week on health care and fund-raising.

The run-of-the-mill campaign schedule and series of press releases from the Biden camp stands in stark contrast to the high-stakes drama in the Capitol. As House Democrats plow forward with an impeachment inquiry, Biden’s campaign was determined to insulate itself.

“I will continue to focus my campaign not on how Donald Trump abused his power to come after my family, but on how he has turned his back on America’s families,” Biden said in a statement released by his campaign.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporters Mattie Thomas, center, and Mayra Rivera-Vazquez, at left, at Morris Brown AME Church in this Sept. 23, 2019, file photo.  Biden's campaign signaled it would spend the week on health care and fund-raising while the latest impeachment battle dominates the headlines.

The impeachment inquiry centers on the president’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In a July 25 phone call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company. As vice president, Biden represented the U.S. in pushing for the ouster of the country’s prosecutor general, who had been investigating the company. But the probe into Burisma had been dormant for more than a year when the U.S. and European countries demanded the prosecutor’s dismissal.

Biden detoured from Philadelphia to his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday to make a televised statement in which he said Congress would “have no choice” but to proceed with impeachment if the White House continued to stonewall Democrats in their investigations.

Trump released the transcript of his phone call with Zelenskiy on Wednesday, and Biden said Congress must “quickly take prompt action to hold Donald Trump accountable,” but didn’t explicitly mention impeachment.

The Biden campaign has also furiously fought back on reports that do not unequivocally state that Trump’s allegations are unfounded.

Beyond that, Biden has proceeded apace. He held fundraisers in Philadelphia and Baltimore. He’ll spend Wednesday and Thursday at fundraisers in Los Angeles, and he will also be appearing on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show Wednesday night.

The impeachment conversation – and the constant linking of his name to Trump’s allegations – comes at a delicate time in Biden’s campaign. In state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and California – the nation’s largest Democratic state – as well as one national poll, Elizabeth Warren has inched in front of Biden to take front-runner status, though their numbers are within the margin of error.

The Biden campaign believes it can rebound with health care as one of his strongest issues, citing polls that a majority of Americans do not support the elimination of private health insurance, something Warren and Bernie Sanders back. Biden supports expanding Obamacare by adding a public option.

“We’re not going to let Donald Trump change the subject,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said Monday. “Democrats took back the House in 2018 in part by talking about health care and talking about protecting Obamacare and the impact that it’s had on people’s lives.”

She added, “We are going to remind people what the stakes are in this election.”