Has the 2020 general election already started? No, but it suddenly feels that way.
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden’s back-and-forth about which one might have abused his office over Ukraine is giving the world a preview of a possible future electoral brawl.
Trump and his team sense Biden is taking on water, with the newest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll showing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the lead in Iowa. That survey marks the first time since he entered the Democratic primary that Biden has not been in the lead in the first-to-vote state.
Sources said Monday the president and his campaign team want to keep the Ukraine brawl front and center, suggesting the accusations of corruption against Biden could damage the candidate Trump sees as his biggest threat.
That comes even as some previously reluctant Democrats warm to impeachment after the president appeared to admit to discussing Biden and his son in a July conversation with Ukraine’s newly elected leader.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said the immediate goal for Trump’s team was to “force the media and others to keep digging, which keeps the story alive.”
“The president knows that [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi isn’t going to impeach him on a whim,” O’Connell added. “Right now, there’s just not a political appetite in the country to impeach President Trump. … So he’s got a little wiggle room on this one.”
The Republican National Committee has fired off several emails lobbing corruption accusations at Biden, including one Monday with the subject line “Quid pro Joe.”
“Joe Biden is the one that did a very, very bad thing,” Trump said Monday from New York. Biden reportedly pushed the previous government in Kiev to crack down on corruption as his son sat on the board of directors of a Ukrainian company. (No government entities in the United States or Ukraine have suggested Joe or Hunter Biden acted inappropriately or broke any laws.)
The president’s attacks on Biden at his first full day at the United Nations General Assembly session overshadowed other news including tensions with Iran and stalled trade talks with China. They followed Biden’s own punches thrown over the weekend, portraying Trump as the corrupt one.
“This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power to get on the phone with a foreign leader who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me and imply things; if that’s what happened, that appears to be what happened … This is outrageous,” Biden said.
On Monday, Trump denied holding up a $250 million military aid package to Ukraine unless its then-incoming president investigated the Bidens.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,” he told reporters in New York.
Meanwhile, the Democratic chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees pressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to respond to their requests for information about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They threatened to issue subpoenas if the information was not delivered by Thursday.
“Seeking to enlist a foreign actor to interfere with an American election undermines our sovereignty, democracy, and the Constitution, which the President is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend,” Reps. Adam B. Schiff, Eliot L. Engel and Elijah E. Cummings wrote in a letter. “Such corrupt use of presidential power for the president’s personal political interest — and not for the national interest — is a betrayal of the president’s oath of office and cannot go unchecked.”