Tiptoeing Around Hunter Biden
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It’s the one question about impeachment that no Democratic presidential candidate wants to answer head on.
Should Joe Biden’s son Hunter have been allowed to sit on the board of a foreign company while his father served as vice president?
In the past few weeks, Mr. Biden and his campaign team have spent significant amounts of time and energy denouncing any whiff of impropriety between his son’s work and his service as vice president.
They’re right: There is no evidence that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars from his overseas work or that his father intervened inappropriately with Ukraine or China on his behalf, as President Trump has falsely claimed.
But in politics, appearances matter. Just ask Hillary Clinton or Mr. Trump, or for that matter, anyone who has ever run for office.
At a moment when a populist, anti-establishment fervor runs through both parties, the image of Hunter Biden doing business in Ukraine and China while his father played a prominent role in American foreign policy could quickly become a political liability — a fact that clearly concerns Mr. Biden and his team, given their fierce efforts to denounce the story.
So far, none of the Democratic primary candidates have taken a hard swing at Mr. Biden, focusing instead on the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. But a few are, quite delicately, trying to raise some concerns.
Former Representative Beto O’Rourke suggested, albeit mildly, that Hunter Biden’s work posed a problem, telling reporters, “I would not allow a family member, anyone in my cabinet to have a family member, to work in a position like that.”
Senator Cory Booker called Mr. Biden “truly an honorable man” on CNN last week, adding, “This is in no way can besmirch his character, his honor and his incredible service to this country over decades.”
But, he noted, “I just do not think that children of presidents, of vice presidents during an administration should be out there doing that.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar took a similar position when asked whether she’d be comfortable with the child of her vice president sitting on the board of a foreign company.
“I can promise you right now, my own daughter, who’s only 24, does not sit on the board of a foreign company,” she said, also on CNN. “But that is not the issue. The issue here is what the president is doing.”
Much of the rest of field has largely dodged the question.
Senator Elizabeth Warren initially said she didn’t know when asked whether her ethics plan would prevent a top official’s child from getting a job with a foreign company. Since then, she’s pivoted back to Mr. Trump when asked similar questions.
And Senator Kamala Harris, when asked about the issue, has taken to simply saying: “Leave Joe Biden alone.”
In past debates, candidates who have taken on Mr. Biden’s personal characteristics, like his age, have faced blowback. The questions surrounding his son may be even more sensitive: Democratic voters generally feel warmly toward “Uncle Joe,” particularly when it comes to his family, which has been deeply marked by the tragic deaths of his first wife and infant daughter and his elder son, Beau.
Echoing an attack introduced and continually leveraged — in false ways — by Mr. Trump could risk raising Democrats’ ire.
That doesn’t mean the question won’t be asked at the CNN/New York Times debate on Tuesday night. I don’t know what the questions will be, but my bet is on the topic coming up (Marc Lacey, if you’re listening…). Whether a candidate takes the gamble will be interesting to watch.
Speaking of the debate …
So, yes, The Times and CNN are co-hosting the next Democratic debate in Ohio on Tuesday. As we near the main event, you can register now for either of these phone conversations between Times reporters and editors:
Monday, Oct. 14, from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Eastern time: Deputy politics editor Rachel Dry moderates a conversation between national politics reporters Astead W. Herndon and Lisa Lerer (that’s me!). We’ll talk about what to watch for at the debate and how the campaigns are preparing. R.S.V.P. here.
Wednesday, Oct. 16, from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Eastern time: Politics editor Patrick Healy, national political correspondent Jonathan Martin and politics reporter Katie Glueck, who covers Joe Biden, will parse the standout moments of the debate. Dial in to ask your questions and discuss the takeaways from the night before. R.S.V.P. here.
Drop us a line!
We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at [email protected].
A new era for third-generation immigrants
My colleague Jennifer Medina wrote this week about Julián Castro, his activist mother and the political power of third-generation immigrants. She dug into the demographics for us.
Who is an American? It’s a question that’s just beneath the surface of many debates over race and immigration. In dozens of conversations with Latinos whose families have lived in the United States for generations, there was one sentiment they nearly all shared: They suddenly felt their own Americanness was being called into question.
The idea of a perpetual foreignness is hardly new. Mexican-Americans have been fighting that perception for generations, as Rosie Castro, the Chicana activist and mother of Julián Castro, the only Latino running for president, recently told me.
Just how many Latinos come from families who have lived in the United States for at least three generations? Demographers at the Pew Research Center put the figure at 17 million, roughly 30 percent of the Latino population over all. That percentage has remained steady over the last several years, while the percentage of foreign-born Latinos dropped to below 50 percent in 2013, and is now at 48 percent.
For years, many political leaders like Mr. Castro saw the power of Latinos increasing, but the Trump era has made clear how elusive that power might be. So, now, they are directly discussing race and embracing the kind of rhetoric they once shied away from — the kind their second-generation parents used in the 1960s.
Livin’ that working mom life. We are all NBC News correspondent Courtney Kube.
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Lisa Lerer is a reporter based in Washington, covering campaigns, elections and political power. Before joining The Times she reported on national politics and the 2016 presidential race for The Associated Press. @llerer
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