Biden forcefully defends his son over Ukraine dealings in early stages of debate

WESTERVILLE, O.H — Former Vice President Joe Biden forcefully denied the allegations of wrongdoing in Ukraine by himself or his son made by President Donald Trump and his allies that are the center of the impeachment inquiry that has ensnared the President.

As the Democratic presidential candidates took the debate stage for the first debate after the beginning of the impeachment inquiry, Biden was put on the spot about whether it was appropriate for his son to be on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company, while Biden was in charge of Ukraine policy in the Obama administration.

“My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. That’s what we should be focusing on. What I wanted to make a point about — my son’s statement speaks for itself. He spoke about it today,” Biden said during the beginning of the CNN/New York Times debate in Westerville, Ohio, referring to an interview Hunter Biden gave to ABC.

“What I think is important is we focus on why it’s so important to remove this man from office.”

Democrats were united on the need for Trump to be impeached in an early round of questioning.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts touched off the debate by making a strong case for the impeachment of Trump, accusing the President of repeatedly breaking the law and arguing that it was part of her constitutional oath to pursue his removal from office.

“When I made the decision to run for president, I certainly didn’t think it was going to be about impeachment,” Warren said.

“But when the Mueller report came out, I read it, all 442 pages. When I got to the end, I realized that Mueller had shown … this President had obstructed justice and done it repeatedly,” she said, noting that she had called at that moment for opening an impeachment inquiry. “That didn’t happen.”

The Democrats were largely in agreement with Warren, but in carving out a more centrist lane several of her rivals attempted to underscore that they faced a moral imperative to impeach Trump, not a partisan one.

Biden, who was among the last of the candidates to call for impeachment, argued that Democrats have been measured in their response, saying, “They have no choice but to move.” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker reminded his rivals that they must convince the American people that they are conducting a fair investigation and not a partisan one.

The Democratic candidates stepped onto the debate stage on Tuesday in the crucial swing state of Ohio amid a deluge of explosive developments in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.

Democrats took the stage at the CNN/New York Times debate on the campus of Otterbein University in Ohio — a state that Trump won by 8 points — for the first time since the impeachment inquiry began. The Democrats onstage are facing pressure to show that they can appeal to a broader audience beyond the fervent progressive activists who are increasingly pushing the party to left.

Tuesday’s debate is also the first time that Warren and Biden stood at center stage as co-front-runners in the polls. So far, Warren has delivered strong and smooth performances in all of the presidential primary debates — easily deflecting punches thrown in her direction while crisply outlining her own plans in a way that has found favor with Democratic voters.

As Warren continues to ascend, Biden has begun to take some not-so-subtle jabs at her record and even the depth of her policy agenda, arguing recently on the campaign trail that the nation doesn’t need “a planner” at this critical time.

Warren was in a statistical tie with Biden nationally in a Quinnipiac national poll released Monday, with the Massachusetts senator at 30% and the former vice president at 27%.

While attempting to demonstrate that he would be a stronger opponent for Trump than Warren in the general election, Biden must also untangle himself from the questions that the President has raised about his son Hunter’s work in Ukraine while he was vice president.

Though there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, the matter has become serious enough that Hunter Biden did his first televised interview — aired on Tuesday morning, just hours before the debate — to underscore that he did not take advantage of his father’s position of power.

“I did nothing wrong at all,” Hunter Biden said in an interview with ABC News.

He said of his role serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company: “Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever,” he said.

“However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is — it’s a swamp, in many ways? Yeah.”

Beyond her rivalry with Biden, Warren is likely to take some jabs from other opponents. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has suggested her small-dollar fundraising strategy — accumulating what he called “pocket change” — won’t stand the test of time against Trump, who raised $125 million in conjunction with Republican National Committee the last quarter.

The debate also marks the first time that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will appear on the campaign trail since his heart attack two weeks ago, potentially facing questions about his stamina for the duration of the campaign.

Of the 12 candidates who will compete on Tuesday, only eight have met the threshold to qualify for the November debate in Georgia.

That means tonight may be the last chance for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to make their case to Democratic voters that they should stay in the running.

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