Saturday, December 28, 2019


Yesterday, Joe Biden said he wouldn't comply with a subpoena to testify in the Senate impeachment trial:
In a meeting with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register, whose endorsement in the Iowa caucuses is coveted by presidential hopefuls, Mr. Biden argued that complying with a subpoena and testifying would essentially allow Mr. Trump to succeed in shifting attention onto Mr. Biden and away from the president’s own actions.

“The reason I wouldn’t is because it’s all designed to deal with Trump doing what he’s done his whole life: trying to take the focus off him,” Mr. Biden told the newspaper. “The issue is not what I did.”

“This is all about a diversion,” Mr. Biden added. “And we play his game all the time. He’s done it his whole career.”
Charitable critics accused Biden of tactical incompetence. Angrier critics said he was showing contempt for the rule of law.

Alterman is correct on the question of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. Mair and Kleefeld are shrewder than Biden.

I can't offer a responsible defense of what Biden said.

And yet for a moment -- until he walked back his remarks today -- Biden actually seemed to be taking the battle to Trump in a Trumpian way. He was effectively saying, "You've unilaterally declared congressional subpoenas optional, Mr. President? Fine -- then if I get a subpoena, I'll treat it that way, too. If you've made the rule of law null and void to benefit yourself, I'll take advantage of that, too. How do you like that?"

For a moment, the candidate who seems to underestimate the danger of Trump the most appeared to understand Trump best -- or at least to be the most attuned to what certain voters find appealing about Trumpism. I don't want a candidate who encourages Trumpian lawlessness, but I get the appeal of it. Voters who are on the fence about Trump and the Democrats -- which means that they don't consider Trump's contempt for the rule of law a dealbreaker -- wouldn't give Biden any credit for dutifully and meekly responding to a politically motivated but lawful subpoena. Biden's remarks could have been read as an acknowledgment that we're in a back-alley brawl rather than a legitimate fight with mutually agreed-upon rules. I don't want two Trumps in this election, but a we might need a Democrat with a little Trump in him in order to win.

As it happens, Biden doesn't appear to have thought this out:
... speaking with reporters on Saturday, Mr. Biden stopped short of vowing to fight a subpoena if one were ultimately issued. “I would honor whatever the Congress in fact legitimately asked me to do,” Mr. Biden said after a town-hall-style event in Tipton, Iowa.

Asked if he would challenge a subpoena in court if he believed he had no facts to provide that would be relevant, he responded: “The answer is, I don’t think that’s going to happen to begin with. Let’s cross that bridge when it comes.” He added that he would abide by “whatever was legally required of me.”

... Mr. Biden wrote on Twitter that over the course of his decades-long political career, he had “always complied with a lawful order,” and that in his two terms as vice president, his office had “cooperated with legitimate congressional oversight requests.”
So he's likely to comply if he's subpoenaed. And he should. The rule of law matters.

But I suspect that a little anger about a subpoena might appeal to some voters. I don't think the average heartland voter is a stickler for the rule of law. Some of these voters responded to Trump's frustration with what's proper. They might also respond to Biden's.

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