Joe Biden had a chance to excoriate Donald Trump on Friday after a blockbuster report detailed how the president pushed Ukrainian investigators to investigate Biden’s son.
Instead, Biden was circumspect and measured in a comment to reporters.
Only hours later, after Biden and his advisors weighed more facts and after Democrats renewed calls for impeaching Trump, did the former vice president’s campaign issue a broader and stronger statement.
The time it took Biden to unleash his tougher comments – which stopped just short of urging impeachment — offered an insight into the political sensitivities surrounding the situation.
Despite the outrage that greeted reports of the president’s actions, Biden’s immediate response was no simple matter. His son Hunter Biden’s lucrative contracts with Ukraine — at the same time the vice president was in charge of U.S. policy toward the country raised — raised the prospect of fueling a narrative with downside political risk for Biden.
“This puts him on the ropes over having to talk about this,” said Patrick Murray, a pollster with Monmouth University. “He certainly doesn’t want to talk about this, his family.”
Murray suggested the ethical dimensions of the controversy — and the implications of Trump’s actions for impeachment, which Biden at present does not support — made any extended discussion of the story potentially perilous for Biden.
“At the primary level, I don’t think Democrats would believe these charges [concerning Biden] because of how polarized the debate is right now, but then they could start worrying that this could hurt him if he is the nominee,” Murray said. “It’s ‘can Biden fight back? Will this hurt his ability to take Trump on fully?’ And will it undermine that electability argument that he’s been making?”
In Florida, former Democratic nominee for governor and progressive activist Andrew Gillum said he was left feeling Biden came across as “defensive” when he initially spoke to reporters.