Former Vice President Joe Biden intensified his rhetoric against President Donald Trump during a Reno speech Wednesday evening, casting him as “desperate” and slamming him for sending “his hatchet men” against the Democratic candidate, considered a frontrunner in the race.
Speaking to a packed room at Truckee Meadows Community College, Biden went on the offensive, attacking the president — who is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House — for pressuring Ukraine’s president to open a corruption investigation into his son, Hunter.
“Let me make something clear to Mr. Trump and his hatchet men and the special interests funding his attacks against me — I’m not going anywhere,” Biden said. “You’re not going to destroy me, and you’re not going to destroy my family. I don’t care how much money you spend, Mr. President, or how dirty the attacks get.”
Attacking the president for sending “crazed tweets,” the former vice president called Trump’s behavior “desperate and defensive,” arguing that he had brought the country to a “sobering moment in our history.” In recent days, Trump has taken to Twitter to say that impeachment would cause a “civil war” and that the inquiry amounted to a “coup.”
“Desperate and defensive, Trump sends out crazed tweets — one after another — insinuating that the whistleblower should be dealt with extensively — he used the word ‘executed,’ threatening to prosecute the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warning direly of a civil war if he is impeached,” Biden said.
The president has insinuated that the whistleblower is a spy who should be treated “like in the old days,” widely interpreted as meaning he should be executed.
Using pointed rhetoric throughout, Biden opened his speech by saying that Trump had “corrupted and weaponized” the federal government, enlisting agencies, including the State Department and the Justice Department, “to do his personal bidding.” Later in the speech, Biden painted a stark contrast, pivoting to defend his record dealing with Ukraine, saying that he was carrying out the “official policy of the United States government to root out corruption.”
Trump has made unsubstantiated claims that Biden, while working as the vice president, worked to fire the country’s top prosecutor to benefit his son’s business interests in Ukraine.
“We weren’t pressing Ukraine to get rid of a tough prosecutor,” Biden said. “We were [pressing] Ukraine to replace a weak prosecutor who wouldn’t do his job with someone, at the time, we hoped would finally crack down on corruption in Ukraine. That’s what it was about.”
“Trump, on the other hand, was secretly putting at risk our national security by pursuing a personal political vendetta against me because I don’t think he wants to run against me,” Biden added.
Biden argued that the president was “becoming more unhinged” as he feared losing his re-election campaign.
“He wants a campaign on his terms,” Biden said. “He imagines that this tactic will allow him to pick his opponent and face one of the candidates he thinks he can beat. We are not going to let Donald Trump choose the Democratic candidate.”
Speaking at a gun violence forum in Las Vegas earlier in the day, Biden said that there is “zero zero zero zero zero evidence of any assertion being made” by the president. He also said that he has communicated with his son, Hunter, a couple of times in recent days, but didn’t elaborate on what they discussed.
Two of Biden’s top opponents — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris — were also asked to weigh on the impeachment issue at the forum. Warren dismissed a tweet from Trump suggesting that impeachment efforts were holding up gun safety reform efforts in Congress.
“What is so disturbing about it is that a tweet like that makes it clear that Donald Trump understands what the American people want to see done,” Warren said. “He picked gun safety for a reason because he knows how many people in this country have been touched by gun violence.”
Harris, in response to the same question, quipped that Trump “has got nothing done about much of anything since he’s been in office.”
Reporters also pressed a number of other candidates swinging through Las Vegas for the forum, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who twice declined to say whether or not he would allow his child to sit on the board of a foreign company.
“One thing I think is really important right now is to deny this president to change the subject, and the subject is that the president confessed on national television to an abuse of power,” Buttigieg said.
That sentiment was echoed by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who said Trump’s statements on Ukraine were “using the same playbook” Trump used against Hillary Clinton — and continuing a trend for Democratic contenders who have shied away from taking aim at Biden and looking to keep the spotlight on Trump’s alleged wrongdoing.
“He’s trying to besmirch the reputation of an honorable public servant who’s given a lot of honest years of service, so that he can try and win a narrow electoral college victory,” Castro said. “The American people should not be fooled by the same playbook that Donald Trump is using against Joe Biden that he tried to use against Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
Megan Messerly and Jacob Solis contributed to this report.