Biden in Reno: “Trump pursued a personal political vendetta against me”
Biden forcefully rebuts Trump’s Ukraine accusations, ignores Warren’s momentum
RENO, NV — “I’m not surprised Donald Trump asked a foreign government for help to beat me,” Joe Biden declared at an October 2, 2019 campaign event held in the student center of Truckee Meadows Community College.
“I’m not surprised that the head of the NRA met with Trump to prop him up,” Biden added, in reference to Wayne LaPierre’s recently-scrutinized visit to the White House. “I’m not surprised that the president’s allegations of wrongdoing against me have been debunked across the board by every major publication.”
As expected, the former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate was forceful in refuting allegations of wrongdoing in Ukraine, in relation to President Trump’s mushrooming Ukraine scandal.
But Biden was also curiously silent regarding the candidate who has emerged as his most dangerous challenger — Senator Elizabeth Warren — who, the same night, was campaigning just thirty miles away in Carson City. Nor did he mention Senator Bernie Sanders, the day after the candidate was hospitalized for a heart operation.
So what’s a besieged front-runner inadvertently connected to an impeachment inquiry to do? To Biden, it seemed the best defense was a strong offense.
TMCC and the “Danger Zone”
Truckee Meadow Community College sits on the ridge of a mountain overlooking the Reno basin. This scenic vista is shared with other institutions of high repute: the Desert Research Institute and National Weather Service. As the leading community college in Northern Nevada and part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, TMCC presented a sleek — albeit theoretically working-class — aesthetic for the candidate.
The atrium of the Red Mountain Student Center has the appearance of a hangar crossed with a themed shopping mall. Ferns sprout from red-brick planters that double as repositories for what seem to be structural I-beams. A mural dramatically depicts a mining explosion presaging the original transcontinental railroad storming into modern, neon-lit Reno, under the looming presence of the Mount Rose sunset.
Rows of folding chairs expanded into a grid facing the podium, which stood before seven American flags. No Nevada flags were present. On the loudspeakers, a variety of tunes played — including Panic! at the Disco’s omnipresent modern Democratic campaign anthem, “High Hopes,” as well as, strangely, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” Thus the Biden campaign appears more enthusiastic about next summer’s Top Gun: Maverick than we ever suspected.
Biden supporters streamed in until the seats were filled and the late arrivals found places on the steps and second-level overlooking the atrium. The audience, predominantly older and white, often arrived in creative apparel. An elderly lady appeared in a red football jersey. The back, where the player’s name is usually denoted, read: “IMPEACH.” The jersey’s number? 45.
Washoe County resident Peter Parrish wore a T-shirt with the images of Obama, the Dalai Lama, and Trump, with the subtitle, “Obama Lama Ding-Dong.” Parrish said he had seen Bill Clinton appear at the same TMCC podium during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
“I made two mistakes in my life,” Parrish said. “I voted for Nixon. I did vote for Reagan… I didn’t realize he was such a corporate pirate. I voted Democrat ever since.”
Boy Scouts, Invocation, and “Home Means Nevada”
Before Biden took the podium, a series of assorted groups seemingly from a long-past decade appeared and made their entrances and exits. Reno city councilman Oscar Delgado made his remarks. A local boy scout troop led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. A local priest led the crowd in prayer. A children’s choir sang both “God Bless America” and Nevada’s baffling state anthem, “Home Means Nevada”:
Home, means Nevada, Home, means the hills,
Home, means the sage and the pines.
Out by the Truckee’s silvery rills,
Out where the sun always shines.
There is the land that I love the best,
Fairer than all I can see,
Deep in the heart of the golden west
Home, means Nevada to me.
Finally, a local firefighter introduced Biden. The Biden lobby was highly structured. How much of the group selection was a result of Biden being the former Vice President, and how much was Biden’s campaign trying to strike a center-left tone?
Biden goes on the offensive
“Now, because of the courageous actions of a whistleblower, the Trump scheme has been exposed and in many cases, already acknowledged,” Biden said from his TMCC podium.
The candidate wasted no time in addressing the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry of President Trump and rebut the theory regarding Biden’s alleged role in Ukraine that Trump referenced in his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
In that call, Trump expressed his desire for Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in exchange for military aid, an extraordinary request for a foreign government to interfere in an American election. This call was subsequently covered-up by White House officials until an anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint on August 12. When the House of Representatives caught wind of the complaint, they demanded the release of the whistleblower complaint, finally made public on September 25. For a more complete timeline of events, still unfolding, please refer to The Washington Post’s chronology of the developing scandal.
Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. In 2016, as Vice President, Biden was instrumental in pressuring Ukrainian officials to fire Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. However, contrary to Trump’s insistence, Shokin was not at the time investigating Hunter Biden’s role at the company, though, in July 2019 he claimed that he had been and that this was the reason for his 2016 firing. However, at the time Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Shokin, the prosecutor was widely viewed by several Western democracies as having gone to insufficient lengths to go after corruption in Ukraine.
In Reno, Biden was quick to flip the script on Trump’s attacks.
“He did it because, like every bully in history, he’s afraid,” Biden said. “He’s afraid of how badly he may be beaten in November.”
For this comment, Biden drew cheers, and built on the crowd’s momentum with an impassioned defense.
“Every independent news organization that has reviewed the charges at length has found them to be a flat-out lie,” Biden said, adding, in a response that merits being quoted at length:
“What I did in Ukraine was carry out the official policy of the United States government — to root out corruption in the Ukraine, in conjunction with our European allies, the International Monetary Fund and its leader, our closest democratic allies, and the courageous reformers in Ukraine who I met on the ground when I was there multiple times. It was a fully transparent policy carried out in front of the whole world, and fully, fully embraced by the international community of democracy. We weren’t pressing Ukraine to get rid of a top prosecutor, we were pursuing Ukraine to replace a weak prosecutor who wouldn’t do his job, 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.”
Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma still needs to bear scrutiny. So do the activities of Trump’s own children. But Biden’s claim that there is no evidence that he, as vice president, acted inappropriately in regards to Ukraine is true.
What is striking about Joe Biden’s appearance in Reno is how it encapsulated his struggle to articulate a message in response, as The New York Times has reported. Torn between defending his son and getting embroiled in a war of words with Trump, Biden has needed to push back against conspiracy theories peddled by conservative media and the president himself.
Meanwhile, Biden has the particular challenge of “running a primary campaign and a general at the same time” while his further-to-the-left-leaning Democratic rivals seize upon his moment of weakness.
For the third quarter, Biden has come in fourth in fundraising totals, following Sanders, Warren, and the upstart Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg.
Campaign crowd sizes, while not a scientific means of predicting electoral success, also appeared to correlate with Biden’s recent struggles.
About 600 people in total had arrived to see Biden at TMCC. Vedant Patel, Biden’s Nevada Communications Director, expressed little concern regarding the Warren’s campaign event simultaneously occurring just down the highway.
“We’re focused on our campaign and our operations in Nevada,” Patel said. “We’re very excited about the turnout.”
Down in the rank-in-file Biden organizers, optimism remained. When asked about whether she thought Biden could defeat Senator Warren, Suzette Jourgensen, a volunteer for the Biden campaign, said, “I think he’s going to beat her.”
At the same time in Carson City, Warren’s crowd totaled 1,500.
In Reno, Biden said, “I’m not going anywhere.” But if he wants to win — perhaps he will have to go somewhere. Carson City, for starters.
This is the fourth essay in a creative nonfiction (opinion) series about presidential candidates visiting the Reno area. You can read the third post, about Pete Buttigieg’s September visit to Sparks, NV, here; the second post, about Bernie Sanders’ September 2019 visit to UNR, here, and the first, about Beto O’Rourke’s April visit to Bibo Coffee, here.