'I'll stand with Joe': Democrats rally around Biden after Trump attacks

By Marianne LeVine

Democrats are admonishing Republicans and President Donald Trump for attacking Joe Biden and his family amid the ongoing Ukraine scandal, calling their criticisms a distraction from Trump’s current predicament.

More than a dozen Democratic senators fought back against the president’s insinuations that there was something suspicious about Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s connections to Ukraine, or that the former vice president and current 2020 hopeful pushed for the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to protect his son. Their defense highlights their allegiance to Biden as well as Democrats' strategy of keeping the attention focused on Trump.

“I think it’s very clear that the president is very afraid of Joe,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “And so he’s going after Joe and his family for political purposes and I’ll stand with Joe against any president who acts that way.”

Republicans are not planning to let up on their attacks of the former vice president and his son, noting repeatedly this week that Hunter Biden reportedly made $50,000 a month for his work in Ukraine. And if Biden does become the nominee, his son’s business dealings will further come into focus.

But Democrats say that Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine has already been litigated, and don’t see a threat from the GOP.

“I think this is an issue that’s been vetted for a while and enough to find out the truth,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who has endorsed Biden. “I’m not aware of anything that would be troubling or damaging.”

“The vice president’s engagement in the matter ... was well understood,” added Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), referring to Biden's calls to remove the Ukrainian prosecutor over allegations of corruption. ”We weighed in against the prosecutor, it’s been looked at, it’s strictly a distraction by the president and it’s not going to work.”

Yet Biden faced some criticism from fellow Democrats, namely from 2020 rival Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is trying to attract the same moderate voters as Biden. When asked about Hunter Biden’s business dealings, Bennet told POLITICO, “it’d be better not to have that kind of arrangement.”

Biden issued a statement this week saying that he would not focus his campaign on how Trump "abused his power" to come after his family but instead "on how he has turned his back on America's families."

President Donald Trump’s attempt during a phone call to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate the Biden family reinvigorated House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who endorsed an impeachment inquiry into Trump this week. On Thursday, Democrats further accused Trump of a cover-up after an unnamed whistleblower claimed that White House officials witnessed Trump abusing his office for personal gain over the call, and later tried to “lock down” details of the conversation.

Meanwhile, the majority of 2020 candidates have avoided going after the vice president’s family. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-Texas) told reporters Thursday at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania that he did not think the latest Ukraine debacle made Biden more vulnerable.

“I really thinks this country, as it should, is focusing on the conduct and the choices that President Trump has made,” O’Rourke said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a former 2020 presidential candidate, also said in an interview that she did not view Hunter Biden’s work as a liability for Biden's campaign, adding that “what’s most alarming is how the president used his power and position as president of the United States to ask a foreign country to investigate a political adversary.”

Some Democratic senators acknowledged that Biden may have to do more explaining when it comes to his son’s work abroad. But they also cautioned reporters from propagating Trump’s conspiracy theories and emphasized the focus should remain on the whistleblower complaint against Trump.

“If the media repeats and repeats and repeats allegations that have absolutely no foundation, you’re falling into exactly the same trap that you did in 2016,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally.

Democrats also argue that Biden’s family’s business affairs pale in comparison to the Trump family. Democrats have scrutinized the Trump family for profiting off of his businesses during his presidency.

“I’m not sure that President Trump wants to get into a conversation about the business dealings of candidates’ children,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “It’s much weaker ground for Trump than it is for Biden.”

Other senators questioned how much interest the broader public had in Hunter Biden’s business dealings and argued that the election would be fought over issues like health care and the economy, "not distractions about what his son is doing," as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) put it. And as for Trump's claims that Biden sought to help his son's business, Democrats say it's only the latest outburst.

“He’s mixing up names, his mixing up the timing of events,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who ran for vice president in 2016. ”He’s still worried about the DNC. He’s still trashing [former special prosecutor Robert] Mueller a year after that was done. So the Biden stuff looks like weird conspiracy stuff that Trump tends to read about in somebody else’s tweets. I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue.”