Sunday 20 October 2019

David Von Drehle: 'Probe could do a lot of damage to Biden's run for White House'

Cooking up trouble: Democratic front-runner Joe Biden. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/ Reuters
Cooking up trouble: Democratic front-runner Joe Biden. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/ Reuters

David Von Drehle

I can't help looking at the pick-up truck.

It's a beauty of a beast: a 2019 Chevy Silverado, complete with the Z71 off-road package and a Duramax turbo-diesel engine. But that's not why I'm transfixed.

I'm looking at the bed of the truck, where 76-year-old Joe Biden is about to stand and deliver encouraging words to members of the striking United Auto Workers. More precisely, I'm looking at the very small, very steep step from the uneven ground to that elevated perch.

Certain questions arise when politics meets gerontology. President Donald Trump and three of the leading Democrats running for president are 70-plus. Call me ageist, but I can't help wondering how Biden is going to negotiate the climb into that truck bed.

Now, his car pulls up. The former vice-president pops out wearing a big smile under his Clint Eastwood squint and a red union T-shirt over his blue button-down. And after the briefest of introductions, Biden seemingly levitates - step, step, sure-footed as a Sherpa - to take the microphone and announce, "I'm Joe Biden, and I'm UAW!"

We should all be so spry. The rest of his appearance went just as smoothly. His remarks were focused and appropriate. None of the rambling riffs that have made Biden supporters grit their teeth and pray.

Summing up: A robust, relaxed and disciplined Joe Biden visited the picket line outside the General Motors factory, and for the first time I found myself thinking, as I watched the performance, that he just might have what it takes to nurse his little lead in the polls all the way to the Democratic nomination.

Yet it was a terrible day for Biden, because while he was winning votes on the picket line, Democrats in Washington were freshly lathered over impeaching the president. And it appears they are going to feed Biden into a wood chipper as part of their vain quest.

At issue is a Trump phone call with the president of Ukraine, during which the leader of the free world cajoled his counterpart to dig up dirt on the Biden family and may have used US foreign aid as both carrot and stick. Pretty jaw-dropping behaviour from a man who spent two years in hot water over the issue of foreign election interference. Except that, by all appearances, Trump has been trying for months to goad Democrats into impeaching him.

Having watched 20 years ago as President Bill Clinton's poll numbers soared after a failed impeachment attempt, Trump is apparently ready to take that same medicine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has for months struggled to quiet her caucus of feckless impeachers, but the drumbeat is now so deafening she had no choice but to authorise an impeachment inquiry. And the price of impeachment for Biden will be weeks, perhaps months, of non-stop discussion of his son Hunter Biden and Hunter's activities in Ukraine and elsewhere.

While some people will find the younger Biden a sympathetic figure - he lost his mother and sister in a car wreck as a boy, and lost his older brother, Beau, to cancer in 2015 - others will likely focus on his record of drug abuse and reckless behaviour.

More to the point, Trump's defenders will pick apart his work history, which is full of employers and partners who, one way or another, sought the favour of his powerful father. Among these was a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma, which invited Hunter Biden to serve on its board. Burisma has been accused of being part of the rampant corruption that bedevils Kiev.

Make no mistake. While Trump's behaviour would be on trial, it would be set alongside the awkward question: What did Burisma expect to achieve by allying with the then vice-president's hot mess of a son? And because impeachments are rare and historic events, that awkward question will be a centrepiece of the biggest political news event of the year.

For candidate Joe Biden, it could be an obstacle too steep to overcome.

Irish Independent

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