Ukraine Impeachment Drama Reshapes Crowded Democratic Debate
(Bloomberg) -- The impeachment drama consuming President Donald Trump’s White House threatens to spill over into Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, as former Vice President Joe Biden braces for questions about his son’s business dealings.
The fourth Democratic debate comes amid a rapidly unfolding impeachment inquiry into whether Trump used the levers of U.S. foreign policy for political purposes by urging the government of Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The debate on the campus of Otterbein University, outside Columbus, Ohio, is hosted by CNN and the New York Times, and will be broadcast on CNN at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Tuesday’s event is the first debate since since House Democrats began an impeachment inquiry of the president in connection with his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.
All of the candidates agree that Trump should face impeachment proceedings, though Biden was the last to get on board. They won’t miss an opportunity to hammer home that point on live television.
Amping up the pre-debate tension was an interview with Hunter Biden broadcast on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday. The younger Biden conceded that he exercised “poor judgment” in getting involved in a “swamp” in Ukraine but insisted he did noting illegal or improper.
The Biden campaign said Trump’s continued attacks show he’s “terrified” of facing the former vice president in the general election.
“Hunter spoke out after an unprecedented smear campaign by the president of the United States, who is engulfed in a scandal of his own making after asking foreign nations to interfere in our election,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said.
Biden has warned his rivals against going after his family, and previous attempts to attack Biden in debates have largely backfired on his competitors.
But other leading candidates face their own questions going into the debate.
For Elizabeth Warren, the forum will be the first since she’s gained enough ground in the polls to plausibly challenge Biden for the outright lead in the Democratic race, eclipsing rival Bernie Sanders for leadership of the party’s progressive wing.
For Sanders, it will be his first public appearance since a heart attack on Oct. 1 forced him off the campaign trail. The 79-year-old Vermont senator has since struggled to demonstrate that he can campaign as vigorously as he did in 2016.
For some of the 12 candidates on stage -- the largest lineup ever -- the debate could be a last gasp for their campaigns.
Those candidates will all push to have a “moment” that gets media attention and helps them build support. They will also seek to do damage to another candidate who is chasing after the same voters.
For some, the goal will simply be to have a steady enough performance to qualify for November’s debate, for which the Democratic National Committee has set even more stringent polling and fundraising requirements than the ones that were in place for the September and October debates.
Biden initially avoided engaging with Trump about the unsubstantiated allegations against him and his son, a reticence that threatened to undermine his claim that he would beat Trump “like a drum” in the general election. In recent weeks, though, he has been increasingly forceful.
Many of his opponents -- including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke -- have suggested that work like Hunter Biden’s should not be allowed for the children of a president or vice president to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Some could take the same kinds of shots at Biden at the debate.
On Sunday, Hunter Biden announced that he would leave the board of a Chinese firm at the end of October and would forgo all foreign work if his father were elected president.
While it could be tempting to go after Biden, some candidates have found that that tactic can backfire. Julian Castro’s attempt last month to question Biden’s memory led one congressional endorser to flip -- from Castro to Biden.
Pete Buttigieg, however, plans to be more combative than in previous debates, especially with the progressive candidates like Warren and Sanders, two aides told Bloomberg News.
That fight is most likely to be sparked by their biggest fault line: health care. Sanders and Warren embrace a Medicare for All proposal that would establish a government-run system that would abolish private insurance, while most of the other candidates, including Buttigieg, favor adding a public option to the existing system that’s largely reliant on private insurance.
The debate will include all of the candidates who appeared at the September forum: Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Booker, Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Castro, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang.
There will also be one candidate who hasn’t appeared in the previous debates: billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who entered the race in August. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who failed to qualify for September’s debate, will also be on stage.
Other Democrats still in the race but who didn’t qualify for the debate are Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson.
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