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Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told the Columbus Dispatch on Monday that President Trump should not have asked Ukraine or China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and he disputed a key element of Trump's defense for the plea.

Why it matters: In rare criticism of the president, Portman said the Ukrainian prosecutor was not doing enough to battle corruption. The prosecutor's ouster is at the heart of Trump's baseless allegation of wrongdoing against Biden.

  • Trump insists that Biden only sought the prosecutor's removal because he was investigating a company his son, Hunter, was involved in.
  • Portman said “it may have been inappropriate” for Trump to offer the assistance of Attorney General William Barr and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani with the inquiries, according to the Dispatch.

Portman confirmed Trump cited a lack of help from the Europeans as the reason for withholding security aid that Congress had authorized.

  • But Portman told the paper he only heard that explanation in a conversation the two had on Sept. 11. In prior conversations, Trump administration officials, including VP Mike Pence, gave no reason.

Of note: CNN reported last week that Portman was among a group of senators who signed a 2016 letter that echoed Biden's push to reform the Ukraine prosecutor general's office.

  • Hunter and Joe Biden's involvement in Ukraine had nothing to do with that letter, Portman said.
  • “That didn’t even enter into our calculus as far as I know, one way or the other. It certainly didn’t into mine. Because that was something that nobody was even talking about.”

Yes, but: While Portman said Trump's actions were inappropriate, they don't warrant impeachment.

  • "I think the House frankly rushed to impeachment assuming certain things" that haven’t panned out yet, Portman said, per the Columbus Dispatch.

Go deeper: Susan Collins condemns Trump's call for China to investigate Bidens

Go deeper

Kate Marino, author of Markets
49 mins ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Small businesses see hiring as No. 1 worry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Almost every small business owner in a Goldman Sachs survey is having trouble hiring — and two-thirds think the federal government has done too little to ease their hiring, supply-chain and inflation worries.

Why it matters: The Goldman Sachs research gives a vivid window into the continuing headwinds and hardship for entrepreneurs.