There is much that seems unfair in President Biden’s chronically anemic poll ratings. Like his low marks for economic stewardship despite presiding over a robust recovery from the pandemic. The fact that significantly more Americans fret about his mental acuity than that of the unhinged Donald Trump. That by an even wider margin, voters worry more about the octogenarian president’s age than about Trump’s, although the former president is just three years younger and plainly less fit (215 pounds he is not).
But here’s what is not unfair: that Biden is paying a political price in the polls for the legal travails of his son Hunter.
Yes, Trump and his Republican puppets in Congress are shameful for their nonstop investigating, reckless exaggeration and outright lies about Hunter Biden’s exploiting the family name for business deals while Dad was the vice president, and for baselessly implicating Joe Biden.
House Republicans are shameless in undermining and attacking the federal prosecutor (a Trump appointee) whose job it has been for five years to investigate Hunter Biden. And they’re irresponsible and politically stupid for moving toward impeaching the president, apparently for guilt by association given the lack of actual evidence — all to distract from, and draw false parallels with, the very real criminal charges and mountainous evidence against Trump.
“Bring it on,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently taunted. She knows that nothing could unify Democrats and some independents behind Biden — and threaten Republicans in swing districts — like impeaching Biden.
The Keystone Kops hijinks that pass for the House Republicans’ targeting of the alleged “Biden crime family” would be comical if the stakes weren’t so huge. Just take this exchange in July between one of the senior investigators, Kentucky Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and reporters for Punchbowl News.
Reporter: “You have no proof by Joe Biden of any corruption.”
Comer: “We suspect he took a bribe. We suspect that.”
Reporter: “You have an allegation.”
Comer: “OK, we’re investigating that allegation.”
By August, according to Punchbowl News, Comer was asserting that to impeach the president, investigators don't need to turn up a direct payment from foreign interests to then-Vice President Biden in exchange for some official action.
Well, OK then. Lucky for Comer that he’s not operating in a court of law, where he’d have to prove bribery beyond reasonable doubt.
Even some Republicans are skeptical of the impeachment push, at least privately.
“There’s no evidence that Joe Biden got money, or that Joe Biden, you know, agreed to do something so that Hunter could get money,” an unnamed Republican lawmaker recently told CNN. “... I don’t think the evidence exists.”
The House Republicans’ bad faith aside, there’s another reason to hesitate to censure the father for his son's sins. The family tragedies that bind the men, and Hunter Biden's acknowledged struggles to overcome drug addiction, elicit sympathy in anyone but the most hardened partisan. Joe Biden’s love and solicitude for an errant son is palpable.
And yet. Tragedies and suffering may mitigate, they do not excuse. Hunter invited notoriety and congressional attention, however dishonest, when he undeniably traded on his father’s name to drum up business contracts in China, Ukraine and elsewhere. Live by the famous name, die by it.
The best thing that Joe Biden could have done, as a father and a public official, would have been to put the kibosh on any attempt by his son to make a career off his proximity to political power. Washington is full of buck-rakers peddling their connections. But it’s not a good look for the son of a senator, vice president and now president. Just think, Hunter instead might have become an artist long ago.
Joe Biden not only didn’t block his son’s path to influence-trading, he also repeatedly allowed their phone chats to be played on speakers in Hunter’s meetings with foreign business associates, as if to burnish the brand.
But that’s hardly impeachable stuff.
Hunter Biden faces indictment this month on a felony gun-possession violation after a plea deal involving that infraction and two tax charges fell apart. But, again, no crime is credibly alleged against the president.
All the same, it is not in the least surprising that many voters are surely penalizing him.
A new CNN poll released Thursday, found that six in 10 Americans believe Biden was involved in his son’s foreign business dealings while he was vice president; four out of 10 say they think Biden acted illegally. Such sentiment can’t help but contribute to the president’s dismal approval ratings and the poll’s finding that in hypothetical match-ups, he’s in statistical dead heats with Trump and several other Republican candidates and behind Nikki Haley.
Joe Biden is a decent, competent and empathetic public servant. In decades of covering him in Congress and the White House, I never heard a whisper of any chicanery on his part.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a narcissist and criminal defendant who continues to batter the foundations of democracy. By the way, his family member, son-in-law Jared Kushner, has done some truly serious buck-raking, having parlayed his former White House job into billions in investment dollars from the Saudis and other Middle East sources.
It's hard to fathom that Trump and Biden are running neck and neck.
But politics ain’t beanbag, and Biden has been in the game for 51 years. When it came to his son’s business dealings, and the inevitable stench they give off, he should have known better.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.