“There is a mountain of evidence to suggest the Bidens’ behavior was harmful to the United States,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday from the U.S. Capitol, where several GOP lawmakers used the impeachment trial’s question-and-answer session to insinuate wrongdoing by Biden.
Trump’s campaign is dispatching Vice President Pence and more than 80 other surrogates to Iowa ahead of Monday’s caucus votes, a group that includes several Republicans who have launched the most pointed attacks against Biden and his son, Hunter, during the impeachment process.
Trump could extend the effort during his campaign rally in Des Moines, which comes on the eve of a critical Senate vote over whether his impeachment trial will include witnesses or not. The president has used his recent rallies to criticize several of his Democratic rivals, with Biden receiving the lion’s share of the attacks.
Biden planned to respond in kind Thursday by drawing a sharp contrast with Trump in a speech in Waukee, Iowa, and with a new television ad, both aimed at highlighting differences in character between the two men and previewing a potential general election matchup.
“Character is on the ballot. America’s character,” Biden’s prepared remarks said. “I do not believe we’re the dark, angry nation we see in Donald Trump’s tweets.”
After former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, a member of Trump’s impeachment defense team, spent 30 minutes Monday echoing the president’s attacks on Biden from the Senate floor, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) bluntly expressed the political impact the broadside could have on the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
“Iowa caucuses, folks, Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening,” Ernst told reporters on Monday. “And I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucusgoers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point? Not certain about that.”
Biden, who has denied any wrongdoing, has responded by arguing that Republicans’ focus on him signals their fear that he is the strongest candidate to defeat Trump in November.
“Joni Ernst just spilled the beans,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “She and Donald Trump are scared to death I’ll be the nominee. On February 3rd, let’s make their day.”
Biden’s campaign has also pushed back against the onslaught, criticizing Republican threats to call Biden and his son as witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial as partisan attempts to meddle in the 2020 race.
Trump stands accused of withholding military aid and a critical White House meeting from Ukraine to pressure the Eastern European nation to announce investigations into the Bidens. In her presentation at Trump’s trial, Bondi accused Biden of corruptly pressuring Ukraine to fire a prosecutor in 2015 while his son, Hunter, served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
“Trump desperately wants to impact the outcome of the Democratic primary, dropping into Iowa a few days before the caucus to spread a message of division, discord, and hate,” Biden’s campaign said in a statement previewing Thursday’s speech. “Trump has been trying to prevent Biden from getting the nomination since the moment the VP got into the race, getting himself impeached by the House and tried in the Senate in the process.”
Biden’s campaign also released the new one-minute ad, titled “Character,” that criticizes Trump’s behavior in the White House while describing Biden as a steady leader. “It’s said ‘In here, is where your character is revealed’,” the ad says, flashing an image of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. “But it’s in life where your character is formed.”
Several polls have shown Biden leading Trump nationally and in key swing states in a hypothetical general election matchup.
Polling in Iowa shows a close race in the Democratic caucuses, with Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg all vying for a victory on Monday.
Trump does not face serious competition in the Republican caucuses, which also take place Monday.
His campaign’s decision to send more than 80 surrogates into the state is aimed at engaging Trump supporters rather than impacting the outcome of the close Democratic race, said Kayleigh McEnany, a campaign spokeswoman.
“We’re not there to shape the Democrat outcome,” she said. ” We’re there to showcase the support for the president.”
Still, many of the surrogates will inevitably highlight the “contrast” between Trump and some of the leading Democrats, she said.
During a “Women for Trump” event earlier this month in Des Moines, McEnany and Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump criticized Biden and Sanders as too liberal for the country.
Lara Trump is listed as one of the dozens of surrogates the Trump campaign plans to send to various caucus sites to meet with supporters and engage with local media in Iowa. Others include Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and several Cabinet officials.
Several Republican congressmembers who have been leading defenders of President Trump against impeachment will also participate, including Reps. Jim Jordan (Oho), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.)
“Our Caucus Day operation is just a preview of what is to come,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement this week. “This will be the strongest, best funded, and most organized presidential campaign in history. We are putting the Democrats on notice — good luck trying to keep up with this formidable reelection machine.”
Some non-surrogates are also seeking to influence the Iowa race. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) began running television ads this week in Iowa accusing Biden of “corruption.”
The concerted attacks on Biden could end up “rebounding against” Trump and his allies, said Jim Messina, who was campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid.
“Donald Trump’s focusing on Joe Biden has helped Joe Biden during this primary process,” he said. “Democrats understand that Trump is worried about Biden. And it helps Biden’s electability argument that he’s the candidate who could best beat Donald Trump.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.