What’s Eating Joe Biden? – The New York Times

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When Senator Bernie Sanders attacked Joe Biden in April, shortly after the former vice president announced his presidential bid, Mr. Biden responded by … not responding at all.

“I’m not going to get in a debate with my colleagues here,” Mr. Biden told my colleague Jonathan Martin.

That was when Mr. Biden held a commanding lead in early polling of the Democratic primary and Senator Elizabeth Warren was stuck in the single digits. My, how times have changed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden questioned Ms. Warren’s “credibility,” comparing the Massachusetts senator, who has emerged as a force in the primary race, to President Trump.

“She’s going to have to tell the truth or the question will be raised about whether or not she’s going to be candid and honest with the American people,” he said.

That attack came after a tense exchange during Tuesday night’s debate, when Mr. Biden took some of the credit for Ms. Warren’s signature achievement, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Barack Obama’s administration.

“I went on the floor and got you votes,” he said, his voice rising. “So let’s get those things straight, too.”

Ms. Warren parlayed the attack into a brutal response, thanking Mr. Obama and “every single person who fought” for the agency, notably not naming Mr. Biden.

Then, Mr. Biden seemed to try, again, to undermine the significance of her role.

“You did a hell of a job in your job,” he said, in a tone that struck some as condescending and paternalistic.

A surprised Ms. Warren shrugged off the barb with a quick “thank you,” before pivoting back to the central message of her campaign: “Dream big, fight hard.”

Mr. Biden’s more aggressive approach reflects his weakened standing in the race. In April, he was the definitive front-runner, running a type of Rose Garden, incumbent-light strategy that kept him above the fray. Now, dropping in the polls and lagging in money, he has to fight harder.

But it also tells us something more about Mr. Biden’s irritations with this moment in the campaign. He’s frustrated: by the media, which he thinks is giving him a raw deal, and his opponents, who he believes are getting a free pass.

Those resentments are manifesting in a dismissive tone and harsh attacks, at a time when aides to several other campaigns privately argue that Democrats do not want to see their candidates eviscerate one another. It’s also a time when women are ascendant in the party — and at least a few Democratic voters saw sexism in Mr. Biden’s tone.

There are plenty of signs that Ms. Warren is beginning to face more scrutiny. She bore the brunt of the attacks on Tuesday night, facing jabs from seven of her rivals.

Her refusal to say how she would pay for her “Medicare for all” health care plan feels untenable, risking undercutting the credentials of a candidate who has built her political brand on her policy chops.

The question for Mr. Biden is whether his attacks encourage that scrutiny, or end up giving her more ammunition.

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The Trump administration made a striking acknowledgment in Washington today: After President Trump had spent weeks arguing that there was no quid pro quo when he asked Ukraine to launch investigations into his political rivals, the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, essentially confirmed that there was.

He also insisted that it was standard operating procedure.

In a briefing with reporters, Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged that the administration had held up military aid to Ukraine in part because of the president’s request for that country to investigate a baseless theory about a missing Democratic National Committee server.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

It was yet another example of Mr. Trump and his aides’ admitting controversial — and possibly illegal — behavior out loud.

Mr. Mulvaney’s comments quickly became the new party line for the White House, echoed across the Capitol by other Trump supporters. “We have those types of expectations of our allies frequently,” Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, told reporters a few hours later.

It’s true, of course, that the United States bargains hard with foreign countries to further American interests — just not the president’s personal interests.

So why say that the Ukrainian foreign aid was conditioned on political investigations?

Seems likely that it’s because the evidence was increasingly moving in that direction.

But it’s also part of Mr. Trump’s political strategy of blurting out publicly what he is accused of doing in secret.

As my colleague Maggie Haberman puts it, saying the quiet part out loud removes some of the power of the secret and helps, as she puts it, “move the window of acceptability” on damaging issues.

My colleague Trip Gabriel sends this dispatch from Iowa:

Representative Steve King of Iowa, the outspoken defender of “Western civilization” and utterer of other incendiary statements, has caught a big break in his quest for a 10th term next year.

Mr. King, who was stripped by fellow Republicans of his congressional committee assignments in January after he questioned why white supremacy is considered offensive, has drawn at least three Republican challengers. There’s a good chance they will split the anti-King vote in next year’s primary, allowing the incumbent to slide through to run again in Iowa’s most conservative district.

Abandoned by his party’s establishment, Mr. King raised just $61,800 over the summer and has just $40,600 on hand, according to fund-raising data reported this week. He pulled in just $3,020 from conservative PACs. Two Republican challengers, Randy Feenstra, a state senator, and Bret Richards, a retired businessman, have raised more money than the incumbent.

The Democratic challenger, J. D. Scholten, who came close to unseating Mr. King in 2018, raised $415,000 in the two months after announcing he would run again.

But money has never mattered to Mr. King in previous races: He has universal name identification and is embraced by a sizable part of the Republican base in his district. He will also benefit from the decision by Iowa’s top Republicans, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Senators Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst, to stay neutral ahead of the June primary. All had condemned Mr. King after his remark on white supremacy appeared in a New York Times article. (Mr. King has claimed he was misquoted.)

Laura Belin, a liberal blogger in Iowa who closely monitors Mr. King, noted that he was well received in town halls this year and is cleaving to supporters by portraying himself as a victim of the media and an ardent defender of President Trump under impeachment fire.

Mr. Scholten, a former professional baseball player, faces an uphill battle in a district where registered Republicans strongly outnumber Democrats.

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