Updated Sep 27, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Biden's 2020 family problem

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It was Joe Biden’s family that almost kept him from running. Now, it could help drag him down. 

Why it matters: The former vice president is answering questions about family controversies just as Elizabeth Warren is catching him in the polls.

Top Democrats tell us they worry the Ukraine fracas winds up being an albatross for Biden because he'll be associated with an unpopular issue and process, and won't be able to shake questions about Hunter Biden.

  • All the fact checks and "to be sure" paragraphs in the world may not obviate the collateral damage.

A Democratic strategist not affiliated with a campaign said the Hunter Biden problem is not just his work in Ukraine, but all his personal and business issues.

  • They were all detailed in July in a gripping New Yorker article by Adam Entous, who had extensive cooperation from Hunter Biden and the campaign: "Will Hunter Biden Jeopardize His Father’s Campaign? Joe Biden’s son is under scrutiny for his business dealings and tumultuous personal life."

Trump will be "relentless" in exploiting and distorting any dirt on Hunter, the Democratic strategist said.

  • Part of Trump's calculus could be psychological: Trump knows that Biden worries about his son.
  • The possible upside for Biden is that such taunting reinforces the idea that he is the 2020 Democrat most feared by Trump.

The Hillary view: Philippe Reines, a longtime Hillary Clinton confidant, tells Axios he has seen this movie before.

  • "This has nothing to do with the reality of your experience, your life or your past," Reines said. "They’re reimagining you however they want. It’s beyond a case of taking something and exaggerating it."

The Biden campaign's thinking: Biden did nothing wrong.

  • A Biden adviser told me the collateral damage from the Ukraine scandal should be mitigated for the former vice president because people feel they know Biden and find him relatable.
  • The campaign says it has had its best week of fundraising since the second week of the campaign.
  • Biden plans to continue talking about health care, climate change and gun control — although he won't ignore Trump.

The bottom line: The biggest political beneficiary of the impeachment inquiry could be Elizabeth Warren.

Go deeper: Whistleblower alleges Trump abused power to solicit foreign interference

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