Escalating his language in an effort to rebut Trump’s unfounded claims about his actions with Ukraine, Biden set aside months of restraint to demand Congress move against the president.
“To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached,” the former vice president told supporters here, accusing Trump of having “betrayed this nation.”
Biden even linked Trump’s false claims to the so-called Big Lie idea promulgated by the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. “You say it long enough, often enough, people may believe it,” he said, invoking Goebbels by name.
While Biden stopped short of calling for Trump’s removal from office, his new aggressiveness marked an acknowledgment that he must do more to both confront a president who is attacking him daily and to halt his slide in the polls in the Democratic primary.
The former vice president has openly wrestled with how forceful to be with Trump, lamenting last week that the president wants to drag opponents into “a mud fight.” But Biden is increasingly sharpening his rhetoric under pressure from allies to embrace the head-to-head race.
Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House because of his request to the Ukrainian government that it look into what Biden did with the country when his son, Hunter Biden, was working for a gas company there. On Wednesday, Biden again denied that he did anything improper as vice president. And he accused Trump, who has accused Biden of corruption and whose campaign is airing ads repeating the same claim, of acting entirely out of a desire to undermine his candidacy.
“We’re not going to let Donald Trump pick the Democratic nominee for president, period,” said Biden, who has fallen behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in a series of national and early nominating state polls. “He’s picked a fight with the wrong guy.”
The president apparently watched the speech, or was told of it, because even before it was over he noted on Twitter that Biden had called for his impeachment and claimed the Bidens had “ripped off at least two countries for millions of dollars.”
“Joe’s Failing Campaign gave him no other choice!” wrote Trump.
There is no evidence that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars from his overseas work or that his father intervened inappropriately with Ukraine or China, the other country Trump was alluding to in his tweet. The president has also urged China to look into the Bidens.
Biden again denied that he did anything improper as vice president. He noted that his 2016 call to fire Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, was part of U.S. government policy under President Barack Obama. It also reflected the wishes of a group of Republican senators at the time, who sought Shokin’s ouster because he was seen as unwilling to target corruption, Biden said.
A longtime senator before he became vice president, Biden is deferential to congressional prerogatives and has resisted calling for impeachment, even as Warren and many of his other Democratic rivals have been outspoken in demanding it.
Last month, when House Democrats began moving toward an impeachment inquiry, he said they should only do so if Trump did not cooperate with their investigation. Then last week he said he would let Congress “do its job on impeachment.” And at a later event on Wednesday, in Manchester, New Hampshire, he nodded to his longstanding discomfort with impeachment, calling it “a God-awful thing for a nation to go through.”
But as Trump and his allies wage near-daily political warfare against Biden, he has sought to mount a counteroffensive.
He began his rebuttal in a speech last week in Reno, Nevada, but on Wednesday he went even further. Speaking from a teleprompter and dressed formally in suit and tie, he used his first trip back to New Hampshire since the impeachment investigation got underway to both taunt and condemn Trump in remarkably stark language.
“He’s afraid about just how badly I will beat him next November,” said Biden, attempting to frame the general election as a contest between him and the president, and appealing to Democratic voters here and elsewhere who are consumed with finding a nominee who can oust Trump.
But he also used his speech, which lasted just under 30 minutes, to warn of the damage he claimed Trump was doing to the country.
“We all laughed when he said could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it,” Biden said. “It’s no joke. He’s shooting holes in the Constitution, and we cannot let him get away with it.”
He argued that impeachment was crucial not just because of what the president had done but also in trying to curb Trump from committing additional abuses in office.
For Biden, the question now is how to balance countering Trump’s onslaught with articulating his own policy vision and contrasting himself with his Democratic opponents. He sought to do all three in his appearance in Manchester, reciting many of his same lines about Trump at the outset of his speech before turning to his record on gun control and domestic violence prevention.
“It takes a proven ability to get things done,” he said.
And, he reminded the audience in an unmistakable reference to Warren’s raft of policy plans, “We’re not electing a planner.”
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