LAS VEGAS — Joe Biden told supporters Friday that President Donald Trump is trying to make the 2020 presidential election a “battle” between the two men, days after the White House released records of a call showing that Trump had asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son.
“He’d like very much for us — for me — to focus on his mistakes, what he’s done, and his focus of a battle between he and I. This is not about me. This is about the American people,” the former vice president told supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Nevada. He repeated the phrase “this is not about me” multiple times during his speech.
The campaign appearance was Biden’s first public event since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would begin a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.
The inquiry puts Biden in a unique position: His campaign has been fixated on Trump since the moment it began, but Trump’s troubles that triggered the impeachment inquiry are explicitly connected to unproven allegations about Biden’s family.
The risks for Biden are clear, no matter the credibility of Trump’s allegations. “I think it might define him with Trump. I’m worried it might be kind of like with Hillary,” Sandra Ackerman, 74, said before Biden spoke, referring to how Trump and his allies portrayed Hillary Clinton as corrupt or “crooked” in 2016. “I think he might try to explain it a little more, but it’s kind of hard because it’s his son.”
But in Las Vegas, at least, the voters who came out to see Biden speak on Friday were undaunted and largely comfortable with how the candidate was handling the situation he’s suddenly found himself in.
Biden cast Trump’s attempt to push Ukraine’s government to investigate his son’s time on the board of a Ukrainian gas company as an attempt to “hijack the election so that we’re not going to focus on your lives.” And he again said that “every major publication in America and around the world” had found that the president’s claims about the Biden family in Ukraine were “dead wrong.”
“But again, it’s not about me,” Biden told the crowd in Las Vegas. “We’ll overcome this. This is fine. My family will handle this, but I’m worried about all of the families and all of the lives that are at stake in this election because of his failure as a president.”
Biden then returned to some regular campaign stop talking points: health care, gun control, and climate change.
Several people in the audience of mostly older Nevadans told BuzzFeed News they were happy Biden addressed Trump’s allegations about his family without going into great detail.
And all of the more than 20 voters who spoke to BuzzFeed News at the event said their views of Biden were not changed by Trump’s suggestion that there was a scandal to be uncovered about his son’s conduct in Ukraine or his own conduct as vice president.
“Nobody that has a brain would buy into that stuff,” said James Katzen, 70. “Along with all the other twelve thousand lies, there’s been no corroboration of anything [Trump] has ever said in his life.”
While most of them said they approved of Biden’s brief remarks, a few people said they’d like to see him explain the details of the Ukraine episode at greater length to make sure it doesn’t damage his campaign.
Stephanie McCoole, like most of the voters who spoke to BuzzFeed News, said she didn't want Biden to talk at greater length about it.
“I actually am happy that he’s not that defensive, because Trump’s a bully, and bullies want you to respond,” she said.
“He went to the point and he told us what we needed to know,” said Sandra Lopez, 44. “Regardless of whether it’s true or not, it doesn’t matter. We need a change.”
The whistleblower complaint about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine was released Thursday, and the White House on Wednesday released a non-verbatim transcript of a July phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him a “favor” and investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said on the call, appearing to refer to Attorney General William Barr, according to the record of the call. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
The Ukrainian prosecutor who first raised allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden has said, most recently on Thursday in comments to the Washington Post, that he does not believe that Hunter Biden broke any Ukrainian laws.
“From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he did not violate anything,” Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, told the Post.
Hunter Biden was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma for five years. Lutsenko’s predecessor, Viktor Shokin, investigated the company’s management for possible abuse of power before Hunter Biden joined the board; Biden himself was never under investigation or implicated in wrongdoing.
During his tenure as vice president, Joe Biden was one of several international leaders who pushed Ukrainian authorities to fire Shokin for not aggressively pursuing corruption investigations.
The whistleblower complaint said that several White House officials were concerned that Trump had used “his office for personal gain” in asking the president of another country to investigate a political rival, leaving them “deeply disturbed,” the whistleblower wrote.