Far from Senate, Biden largely avoids impeachment politics

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Brown & Black Forum at the Iowa Events Center, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

DES MOINES, Iowa – As the Senate begins President Donald Trump's impeachment trial on Capitol Hill, Democrat Joe Biden is 1,000 miles away in Iowa, trying to capitalize on the circumstances without allowing the proceedings to overshadow the closing case he’s making ahead of the first 2020 votes.

“The character of the nation is on the ballot,” Biden told a few hundred potential caucus-goers Tuesday at Iowa State University. “We’ve never seen ... such an abuse of power by a president.”

Yet Biden mostly sidestepped the potentially complicating reality that he’s intertwined with the root cause of Trump's impeachment case: The president pressured the Ukraine president to declare a public investigation of Biden and his son Hunter Biden based on discredited theories about the younger Biden’s foreign business dealings.

“I fully understand the way they tried to malign my only surviving son,” Joe Biden said in his only brush with the specifics. Yet Biden’s aides have worked furiously to get ahead of any effort by Senate Republicans to use the trial to smear him.

Kate Bedingfield and Tony Blinken, top campaign aides to Biden, distributed a memo to the media on Monday, at the start of a three-day Iowa swing for Biden, saying Trump “is the only American president to have weaponized foreign and national security policy in an attempt to coerce a foreign country into lying about a rival presidential candidate.”

Separately Tuesday, the campaign released a nearly four-minute video featuring a Biden staffer drinking a beer and explaining to viewers “what really happened in Ukraine.” In it, Andrew Bates uses a vulgarity in describing Trump's framing of the situation.

The memo and video underscore the Biden campaign’s long-established strategy of aggressively countering Trump’s broadsides, a lesson his aides say they learned from Hillary Clinton’s handling of Trump in 2016. But it is also an acknowledgment that Biden cannot necessarily control this story line, especially as some Republicans and conservative media push the idea, however unlikely, that the Bidens should testify before the Senate.

With that in mind, the memo urged media not to repeat a “malicious and conclusively debunked conspiracy theory” from the White House and GOP claiming that the Bidens engaged in wrongdoing when Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm while Joe Biden handled U.S. foreign affairs in the same country.