It was a curious question at the end of a curiously moderated first presidential debate: “Why should voters elect you president over the alternative?”
On the other side of the screen, all of us were under the impression that’s what we’d tuned in for in the first place. It’s the unspoken question every debate seeks to answer — which was why Fox News’ Chris Wallace was making a tacit admission that after an hour and change of unfocused, ineffectual moderation, he was trying to regroup.
Among other things, Joe Biden used the opportunity to insinuate President Donald Trump had impugned Biden’s son, Beau, a military veteran who died of cancer in 2015, by allegedly calling military dead “losers” and “suckers.”
It’s worth noting before we get Joe Biden’s statement that Beau Biden hadn’t been an issue during the debate. His other son, Hunter, had, however, given a recently released Senate report that found the former Burisma board member had given significant sums to women allegedly involved in an “Eastern European prostitution or human trafficking ring.”
Hunter Biden had also received a payment from wife of Moscow’s former mayor and had links to dubious oligarchs throughout the region, according to the report.
The Democratic nominee frequently challenged this report when it came up. However, he didn’t want to bring that son into his answer, one that relied upon in part on another dubious report.
“With regard to [being more] divided,” Biden said, “we can’t stay divided, we can’t be this way.”
“And speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being ‘losers’ and them just being ‘suckers,’ my son was in Iraq and he spent a year there,” he continued, his voice piqued.
“He got the Bronze Star, he got the Conspicuous Service Medal — he was not a loser, he was a patriot, and the people he left behind there were heroes!”
Biden was referring to Jeffrey Goldberg’s report in The Atlantic, earlier this month, in which anonymous sources claimed the president called American World War I war dead “losers” and “suckers.” On-the-record sources came forth to refute the claims in the report. One of these was John Bolton — the former Trump national security advisor who has very publicly turned on the president, who called some of the incidents he was purportedly present for “false.”
The president, meanwhile, offered a counter: “Are you talking about Hunter?”
“Beau Biden, I’m talking about–” Biden said, his voice becoming louder and finger pointing more emphatically.
“I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter,” the president said.
“Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use–“
“That’s not true,” Biden said, interrupting. (This technically isn’t true, by the way. Hunter Biden was only discharged for cocaine use, not dishonorably discharged. However, even before he tested positive, his direct commissioning into the Navy Reserve at the age of 43 was also a matter of some controversy. )
“Once you became vice president, he made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow and various other places,” Trump said.
After a bit of back-and-forth, Biden chastised Trump for bringing up his son’s substance abuse problems and said that the report on Hunter Biden’s conflicts of interests had “already been discredited.”
The full exchange is below:
Beau Biden, elder son of the current Democratic presidential nominee, died of brain cancer at 46. In addition to his service in the Iraq War, Beau Biden was also Delaware’s attorney general and was seen as a front-runner to become the state’s governor.
On Tuesday, Joe Biden used the memory of his dead son to impugn Trump over those alleged “sucker” and “loser” comments — comments the president denies making. No hard evidence exists and the only ones claiming Trump did so are anonymous.
One was also struck by the conflation Biden made between his two male progeny. It may have eluded notice as Biden worked himself into a towering rage, but he began it with the words, “speaking of my son.”
We had been speaking of his son: Hunter. No one had talked about Beau, given that he wasn’t germane to Tuesday’s proceedings in any appreciable fashion. Hunter is a different story.
As The Washington Post — ever vigilant to ensure that democracy doesn’t die in darkness — Trump’s words “echoed attacks the president made earlier in the debate in Cleveland, but have little basis in fact.” Biden said roughly the same thing.
Instead of a sketchy article in The Atlantic based entirely on anonymous sources, however, the president had an 87-page interim report from the Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committees on his side.
According to National Review, the report, released last Sept. 23, found Hunter Biden pursued deals with politically connected foreign individuals and that those deals went well beyond his board position with the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.
“The Treasury records acquired by the Chairmen show potential criminal activity relating to transactions among and between Hunter Biden, his family, and his associates with Ukrainian, Russian, Kazakh and Chinese nationals,” the report stated.
“In particular, these documents show that Hunter Biden received millions of dollars from foreign sources as a result of business relationships that he built during the period when his father was vice president of the United States and after.”
The report quoted an embassy official in Ukraine who told Obama administration officials “the presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine” and that he told the former vice president’s staff that “someone needed to talk to Hunter Biden, and he should [step] down from the board of Burisma.”
Hunter Biden’s firm also received a $3.5 million “consultancy agreement” from the wife of the mayor of Moscow and other unusual payments from individuals whose business could create potential conflicts of interest. This isn’t even mentioning the more sordid aspects of the report, particularly payments to women involved in human trafficking.
The issues outlined in the report apparently “have little basis in fact,” according to The Washington Post’s coverage. No one questions Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic, meanwhile — surprising, given the evidence for Hunter Biden’s problematic dealings are much more established than the alleged “loser” and “sucker” sneers.
Biden noted his son’s addiction issues and said they were “working on it” and had “fixed it.”
If it’s true, it’s good news for Hunter Biden and his family, but it’s not an answer to Wallace’s question.
That might be because Joe Biden doesn’t have a good answer to it, and neither does the Democratic Party.
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