• Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Biden Lashes Back at Trump

Biden tries to put Trump on the defensive — but the president is sticking to his message. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

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  • Joe Biden blasted back at President Trump yesterday, trying to force his opponent onto the defensive as they battle over who would keep Americans safer in a time of unrest and pandemic.

  • Amid the flare-ups of violence in some cities last week, Trump argued that electing Biden would give carte blanche to the far left and leave Americans in danger. But speaking in Pittsburgh yesterday, Biden rejected that argument, saying that Trump was the one stoking the unrest.

  • “We have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said. The former vice president flatly condemned people who had set fires and destroyed property in cities like Kenosha, Wis., and Portland, Ore. But he also reminded viewers that the protests had taken a deadly turn on Trump’s watch, not his — and that over 180,000 people in the United States had died from the coronavirus this year, a fact the president avoids mentioning.

  • “His failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is,” Biden said of the president. “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?”

  • The president hit back at a news conference, but he seemed unconcerned with proving Biden wrong: Trump did nothing to condemn supporters of his who used violence over the weekend in clashes with protesters calling for racial justice.

  • He refused to denounce the caravan of his supporters in Portland, some of whom shot paintballs and pepper spray from pickup trucks as some demonstrators threw objects at the trucks. “That was a peaceful protest,” Trump said of the caravan. “Paint is not bullets.”

  • And he defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter who was charged with homicide after video footage appeared to capture him shooting three people during clashes in Kenosha last week; two of them died. “That was an interesting situation,” Trump said, pointing out that a physical altercation had led to the shootings. “He was trying to get away from them.”

  • Trump plans to visit Kenosha today to give a speech, despite the objections of Wisconsin’s governor, the city’s mayor and other Democratic officials, who have said his visit would only provoke further discontent.

  • For more on Trump’s attacks and Biden’s challenges, read lower to get our reporter Thomas Kaplan’s view of things.

  • House Democrats have made a habit of using their subpoena power to investigate the president and his allies, in some cases going beyond what the F.B.I. or the Justice Department is willing to interrogate. But they might not have as much power as they thought.

  • A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that House investigators cannot sue Donald McGahn, Trump’s former White House counsel, for ignoring a subpoena.

  • If upheld, the decision will severely restrict the House’s ability to call witnesses and uncover information, effectively reversing a decades-long tradition of congressional oversight. For that reason, it may also create a dead end in a number of House investigations, including one involving Trump’s still-unreleased financial records.

  • But Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would “immediately” appeal the decision to the full court — which has already shot down one similar decision by this three-judge panel on different grounds. “If allowed to stand, this wrongheaded court of appeals panel ruling threatens to strike a grave blow to one of the most fundamental constitutional roles of the Congress: to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people,” Pelosi said.

  • The D.C. Circuit also decided yesterday that the case against Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, must continue — at least for now — despite the Trump administration’s attempts to shut it down.

  • The Justice Department had sought to dismiss charges against Flynn, a former Trump adviser who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., but a federal trial judge refused to let the case end there. Instead, suspecting the Justice Department of giving Flynn special treatment, he appointed a retired judge to present an independent argument against dropping the charges.

  • Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the trial judge, Emmet Sullivan, could move forward with his plan to hold a hearing before making a final decision.

  • Primary season isn’t over yet — not quite. Massachusetts voters will go to the polls today to cast ballots in a range of state and local primaries.

  • We wrote to you in yesterday morning’s newsletter about the state’s hotly contested Democratic primary for the Senate, pitting Ed Markey, the incumbent, against Joe Kennedy, a congressman and a scion of Massachusetts’s most renowned political family.

  • The most buzzed-about House primary is in the state’s First Congressional District, where a powerful incumbent, Richard Neal, is facing a challenge from Alex Morse, the progressive young mayor of Holyoke.

  • Morse was accused of sexual misconduct early last month, but revelations soon emerged that the students who leveled the accusations had worked up plans to take the vague allegations public, in an apparent attempt to besmirch Morse’s reputation. The Massachusetts Democratic Party also acknowledged that it had provided legal advice to the state chapter of the College Democrats about its explosive letter that prompted the controversy. That led Morse to accuse Neal and other state Democratic leaders of a homophobic plot. If you missed Jeremy W. Peters’s article on the complicated ordeal, it’s worth a read.

  • You can check nytimes.com this evening to see the results from the Massachusetts contests as they come in. If they do come in tonight at all, that is.

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Joe Biden carried pizzas during a visit yesterday to a firefighters’ union in Pittsburgh.


At last week’s Republican National Convention, President Trump and his allies tried to paint a picture of Joe Biden as weak on crime and captive to the left wing of the Democratic Party. They were not constrained by facts as they tried to implant that caricature in the minds of voters.

Yesterday, Biden confronted that portrayal head-on.

“You know me,” he said during his speech in Pittsburgh. “You know my heart. You know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”

In saying those words, Biden highlighted the precise challenge facing Trump and his fellow Republicans as they try to define the Democratic nominee.

Trump is not without some ammunition — Biden does, for instance, want to increase taxes by trillions of dollars (though not on the middle class), and he has promised a 100-day moratorium on deportations. And there are a number of prominent Democrats with unabashedly progressive views to whom Trump can try to tie Biden.

But Biden is not an up-and-coming figure who is little known across the country. He served 36 years in the Senate and two terms as vice president, with well-known roots as a son of Scranton, Pa., and a firm place in the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

His political positioning was only reinforced by the Democratic primary race, in which Biden took endless grief from progressives eager for sweeping, transformative change. Instead, Biden contended that people wanted “results, not a revolution.”

If Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had won the Democratic nomination, Trump’s playbook against him — a self-described democratic socialist — would have been obvious.

But Sanders lost. Trump is now trying to rebrand Biden as the kind of far-left Democrat he presumably would have preferred to run against. And with his speech yesterday, Biden offered a reminder of why Trump’s task is a difficult one.


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