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Biden hits Trump on Ukraine call in Las Vegas speech

Updated September 27, 2019 - 7:00 pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden threw some new verbal punches at President Donald Trump at a Las Vegas rally on Friday, as revelations that Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden’s son dominated the week’s political conversation.

Biden told people who attended a rally at the East Las Vegas Community Center that Trump “used your tax dollars” to potentially commit a crime and ask a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

The former vice president said the president’s actions, revealed in a rough transcript of a phone call released by the White House, were not surprising, given polls that show Biden defeating Trump for re-election.

The revelation of a whistleblower’s complaint about alleged abuse of office related to the call led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.

In an interview with the Review-Journal after his event, Biden discussed Nevada’s importance to his path forward and how impeachment will affect his campaign.

The impeachment inquiry

Democrats have accused Trump of attempting to gain dirt on a political opponent and solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election during his call with Zelenskiy, whom he asked “for a favor” before mentioning a possible corruption probe into Biden and his son, Hunter.

When asked if the impeachment inquiry would impact his campaign strategy, Biden said it would not. The investigation is in Congress’ hands, he said, and he intends to continue pushing his message that he would be a better president based on his merits.

The Trump campaign released a national ad Friday that accused Biden of corruption and claimed Democrats were out to “steal” the 2020 election.

It released a follow-up statement specific to Biden’s Las Vegas stop, saying, “Americans demand explanations for the corruption surrounding Biden, his son and their dealings with Ukraine.” The campaign asked for the release of phone call transcripts from Biden’s time as vice president.

Biden pushed back on Trump’s claims.

“Every single major publication around the country (and) around the world have said there is nothing at all to the accusations relating to me or to my son,” Biden said.

Biden said he expects Trump to do what he always does: Double down, run ads and attempt to control the narrative. The former vice president said he must remain focused on why the country needs change and why he is the best person to do it.

“He does not want me to be the nominee,” Biden said, moving into a wry smile. “And for good reason.”

Is Biden concerned any of his 2020 Democratic rivals will try to use anything from the impeachment inquiry or Trump’s likely public defenses to hurt his campaign?

“I don’t think any of them would be that …,” Biden said, pausing. “The good news is that, in terms of my ethical behavior and my reputation, I think the vast majority of the American people know who I am. And I know my colleagues know, so I would be very surprised if they do.”

Biden, an early front-runner, has seen Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., close in on his lead in recent statewide polling. But he brushed it off Friday, saying polls don’t yet matter in the marathon race — though he did note that he is still ahead in most national polls.

The former vice president conceded that perhaps a small percentage — those who favor things such as building a Mexican-U.S. border wall — may be energized by the impeachment inquiry, but he said he trusts the American people to make the right choice in the election.

Nevada’s role

Biden said Nevada was “extremely important” to his campaign moving forward, saying its diversity best represents the country among the early voting states.

“The issues that resonate here resonate throughout the country,” Biden said.

Nevada’s “vulnerabilities and opportunities” have played a role in shaping Biden’s plan to combat climate change, he said.

Biden said Nevada has also illustrated the difficulties faced by the middle class. The poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is shrinking. He praised Gov. Steve Sisolak’s work on this front, but said the economic struggles mirror the country’s and must be addressed at the federal level.

When it comes to diverse communities in Nevada and beyond, Biden said he has two things to offer: His record and his heart.

“I’ve been deeply involved in the issues that affect people who’ve been under siege — particularly in this administration — my whole career,” Biden said.

Biden said struggles within minority communities and those striving for the middle class are what pushed him into politics in the first place.

Above all, Biden said, he believes the Democratic nomination and the presidency will be won by those willing to be honest with the voters.

“I think what the people are looking for, and we’ll soon find out, is just genuine authenticity,” he said, adding that no one will beat Trump by misleading the public about what their programs are and what they’ll cost.

East Las Vegas rally

Biden was introduced Friday by state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, one of his earliest endorsers among Nevada elected officials, and former Gov. Bob Miller, whose welcome constituted a formal endorsement, the Biden campaign said.

“Time and again he’s been there for us; now it’s our turn to be there for him,” Miller said to the crowd of about 300.

As Biden began to speak, a man stood up from his seat and began shouting, “Joe Biden is a criminal, and the media is covering it up.” As the crowd shouted him down, security escorted him out without incident.

Most of the former vice president’s speech mirrored his typical campaign pitch, with much of it focused on his vision for rebuilding the middle class.

Biden also knocked Trump at several intervals with sloganlike pledges such as “I am going to make sure Trump loses and you win” and “Donald Trump inherited a strong economy from our administration — just like he inherited everything in his life.”

He promised to protect the Affordable Care Act while expanding health care access and lowering costs.

“I believe (health care) is the fastest way to reduce costs for Americans,” Biden said. “I plan on building on Obamacare, and I won’t let anyone, Republican or Democrat, take it away.”

Biden said he would immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement and work to cut carbon emissions in an effort to combat climate change. He also called for an increase in Title I spending to fund universal preschool.

He touted his record on gun violence, which he said includes helping pass background checks, an assault weapons ban and a federal limit on magazine capacity.

Biden and the other leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination will return to Las Vegas next week for a forum on gun violence hosted by March for Our Lives and the Giffords organization started by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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