Joe Biden and Donald Trump went their first round in Iowa, but in separate parts of the state. The president and 2020 Democratic president hopeful spent Tuesday trading insults — sometimes in virtual real-time — as they stumped across Iowa in split-screen moments that could preview a ferocious fight ahead if the two face off for the presidency next year.
Biden is atop the massive Democratic presidential field because of his frequent attacks on Trump, the president said. He also more explicitly linked Biden to his 2016 foe, Hillary Clinton.
“People don’t respect him,” Trump said after touring a renewable energy facility in Council Bluffs. “Even the people that he’s running against, they’re saying: ‘Where is he? What happened?’”
With a dose of exaggeration, the president added: “He makes his stance in Iowa once every two weeks and then he mentions my name 74 times in one speech. I don’t know. That reminds me of crooked Hillary. She did the same thing.”
At almost the same moment in Mount Pleasant, Biden noted that his criticisms of Trump from earlier in the day were playing on TV screens when Air Force One landed in Iowa.
“I guess he’s really fascinated by me,” said Biden, who mentioned Trump by name about a dozen times during his first two events in Iowa. “I find it fascinating.” He started to say more but then stopped himself, quipping: “My mother would say: ‘Joey, focus. Don’t descend. Stay up.’”
Pressed later by reporters about his earlier, repeated assurances that he wouldn’t openly criticize Trump while campaigning, Biden said, “By not talking about him personally — talking about where I disagree with him on the issues, why he’s doing such damage to the country — that’s totally different than attacking his character or lack thereof.”
Still, the back-and-forth laid bare the rising political stakes for each man, even with the election about 17 months away. Trump has zeroed in on Biden as a potential threat to his re-election chances and is testing themes to beat him back. Biden, meanwhile, is campaigning as a front-runner, relishing the one-on-one fight with Trump while making sure he doesn’t ignore the demands of the Democratic primary.
“I’d rather run against Biden than anybody,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn before flying to Iowa. “I think he’s the weakest mentally and I like running against people that are weak mentally.”
Biden began the day in Ottumwa, the heart of Wapello County, a meat-packing and agricultural manufacturing center Trump was the first Republican to carry since Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s part of Biden’s dual track approach: campaigning for the caucuses while projecting himself as someone who can win in territory Trump snatched from Democrats in 2016, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
There, the former vice president hit Trump on the economy — an issue the president often promotes as his chief strength in a time of low unemployment.
“I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariffs toward China,” Biden said. “It’s really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain, farmers and manufacturers.”
Biden added that Trump “backed off his threat of tariffs to Mexico basically because he realized he was likely to lose” in manufacturing states such as Michigan and Ohio. He broadly branded Trump “an existential threat to this country” and said his behavior is beneath the office of the presidency.
For Trump, the biggest concern in this state dominated by agriculture interests is trade. In Council Bluffs, he toured a plant that produces and sells the corn-based fuel additive ethanol.
“I fought very hard for ethanol but you proved me right,” Trump said, adding that he fought “for the American farmer like no president has fought before.” But he then again mocked Biden.
“He was some place in Iowa today,” the president said, “and he said my name so many times that people couldn’t stand it.”
Later Tuesday, Trump was addressing an Iowa GOP dinner in Des Moines. He’s expected to highlight his efforts to help farmers hurt financially from Chinese tariffs on U.S. agriculture products, measures that were imposed last year after Trump slapped levies on Chinese imports.
Trump also is expected to try to sell farmers on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, which remains to be ratified by lawmakers in each country. Supporters of the deal, which is an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, feared that Trump’s recent threat to impose tariffs on Mexico over illegal immigration would jeopardize the pact’s passage by U.S. lawmakers. But Trump announced an agreement with Mexico late last week and delayed the tariffs for the time being.
The president, however, has been stung by criticism that what he announced Friday resembled steps Mexico had already agreed to take. Trump predicted in Council Bluffs that the U.S. would soon be increasing its corn exports to its southern neighbor: “Mexico’s going to be doing a lot of buying.”
Far From Impeachment
Brushing back calls for impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday “it’s not even close” to having enough support in the House, while Democrats pushed forward on other fronts to investigate President Donald Trump.
The House voted 229-191 to approve a resolution that will allow Democrats to accelerate their legal battles with the Trump administration over access to information from the Russia investigation.
At the same time, they’re convening hearings this week on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in an effort to boost public interest in the findings of the Trump-Russia probe while digging into a legal strategy aimed at forcing Attorney General William Barr, former White House counsel Don McGahn and others into compliance with congressional oversight.
“We need answers to the questions left unanswered by the Mueller report,” Pelosi said on the House floor ahead of voting.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy countered that the Democratic maneuvers are all “just a desperate attempt to relitigate the Mueller investigation.” He called it “an impeachment effort in everything but name.”
Earlier in the day, Pelosi all but ignored questions about impeachment during a policy conference, saying the Democrats’ strategy is “legislating, investigating, litigating” — in that order.
Pressed about Trump, she said: “I’m done with him. I don’t even want to talk about him.”
The House’s far-reaching resolution approved Tuesday empowers committee chairs to sue top Trump administration officials to force compliance with congressional subpoenas, including those for Mueller’s full report and his underlying evidence. They now no longer need a vote of the full House.
The Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, urged his colleagues to support the legislation “so we can get into court and break the stonewall without delay.”
After the vote, Nadler said he would go to court “as quickly as possible” against McGahn, who at the behest of the White House has defied subpoenas for documents and his testimony.
The chairman also said he is prepared to go to court to enforce subpoenas against former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, a former McGahn aide, if they don’t show up for scheduled interviews this month.
And Nadler added new names to the list, saying he is also interested in hearing from Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt, who served as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, and former White House aide Rick Dearborn. Both are mentioned frequently in the Mueller report.
“Either work with us and comply with subpoenas or we’ll see you in court,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., the chairman of the Rules Committee.
House leaders have signaled they will hold off on suing Barr, for now, after the committee struck a deal with the Justice Department to receive some underlying materials from Mueller’s report. Nadler has called these some of Mueller’s “most important files” and said all members of the committee will be able to view them. They include redacted portions of the report pertaining to obstruction of justice. Some staff have already started viewing the files.
However, Nadler said the committee will likely sue for access to the report’s secret grand jury information.
The chairmen of several oversight committees said after the vote that Tuesday’s action extends beyond the Russia investigation into other aspects of Trump’s administration, including their subpoena for the president’s tax returns.
“This is not just about Russia, this is a broad, coordinated campaign to stall more investigations across the board,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the Oversight Committee. “We are here in a fight for the soul of our democracy and we will use every single tool that is available to us to hold this administration accountable.”
It’s not clear if that will be enough, though, for the dozens of House Democrats who say it’s beyond time to start impeachment proceedings.
Pelosi has resisted those efforts so far, preferring to build the case in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.
The No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, downplayed the tensions, saying Tuesday he doesn’t get the impression the caucus is “embroiled by this issue and divided by this issue. We have differences of opinion, but I don’t think that we are divided.”
The ramped-up actions this week are intended to mollify some of the impatient members, while also seeking to deepen the public’s understanding of Mueller’s findings.
Mueller wrote in his 448-page report released last month that there was not enough evidence to establish that there was a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, but he also said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. The report examined several episodes in which Trump attempted to influence or curtail Mueller’s investigation.
On Monday, the Judiciary panel heard testimony from John Dean, a White House counsel under Richard Nixon who helped bring down his presidency. Dean testified that Mueller has provided Congress with a “road map” for investigating Trump.
The focus on Mueller will continue Wednesday, when the House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to review the counterintelligence implications of Russia’s election interference, as detailed in Mueller’s report. The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Also Wednesday, the Oversight Committee will consider new contempt citations against Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the administration’s pursuit of citizenship questions on the U.S. Census.
Republicans have criticized the hearings as a waste of time and have called for Democrats to move on.