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How Biden haunts Biden

Illustration of Joe Biden with a shadow behind him reaching its hand out
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Sometimes it sounds like Joe Biden is running against Joe Biden.

The big picture: From Ukraine to Syria strategy to his use of the word "lynching" in connection with Bill Clinton's impeachment, Biden's background often complicates the attacks Democrats want to use against President Trump.

Trump called his impeachment inquiry a "lynching" on Tuesday. Biden tweeted that it's "abhorrent" and "despicable" to "even think about making this comparison."

  • But roughly 9 hours after tweeting that, he issued his own apology for saying in a 1998 CNN interview in which he said Clinton’s impeachment could be considered a “partisan lynching.”

Biden hits Trump for mixing family and government business, but Hunter's past work has made the former vice president a political target for Trump.

  • A career State Department official overseeing Ukraine policy told congressional investigators last week that "he had raised concerns in early 2015" about Hunter Biden "serving on the board of a Ukrainian energy company but was turned away by a Biden staffer," the Washington Post reported.
  • A memo from the Biden campaign said they plan to "focus on the issues that impact people's lives while simultaneously hammering Donald Trump for his unprecedented abuse of power and correcting the record on the mountain of lies Trump and his allies continue to spread about Joe Biden."

Biden can weigh in on Syria, but he has to reckon with the fact that he was there when the red line was drawn and ignored during the Obama administration. As Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote:

  • "Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine came in the aftermath of the Obama-Biden administration’s failure to enforce its red line against Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons by Syria."
  • "Assad responded by using chemical weapons on innocent civilians not once, but 16 times. And yet Obama and Biden did nothing, failing to carry out even 'unbelievably small' military strikes — a decision Biden publicly defended."

Biden gets tangled up in the race debate because of his own past record opposing some busing and comments he has made about working with white segregationists across the aisle.

  • In the September Democratic debate, ABC News' Linsey Davis read Biden's own words — from 1975 — back to him: “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
  • But part of his answer on how Americans can repair the legacy of slavery suggested that social workers should intervene in the homes of black parents to help raise their children.
  • Author Anand Giridharadas tweeted at the time: “Is this not one of the most explicitly racist moments of all time in a Democratic primary debate? ... Asked about his past comments denying responsibility, as a white man, for America’s sins, he gives an answer insinuating that black parents don’t know how to raise kids.”

To be sure, Biden's past doesn’t parallel the level of contradictions that Trump's own record presents.

Between the lines: Biden's found himself compromised at times by 40 years of a political record built on bipartisan work and some out-dated conventions that have fallen out of fashion, particularly in Democratic Party politics.

But, but, but: The most recent CNN poll suggests none of this has been insurmountable and that Trump’s efforts on Ukraine may have backfired. Biden took the lead spot among 2020 Democratic rival, at 34%, and has resumed his largest margin since April.