- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is increasingly taking fire from his left flank over issues including the Iraq War and consumer protections as rivals Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren try to wound him in the run-up to the kickoff caucuses in Iowa.

Mr. Sanders hammered Mr. Biden for talking in the past about cuts to entitlement programs, helping “lead the effort” for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and voting for “disastrous” deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“You think that’s going to play well in Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania?” Mr. Sanders, a Vermont senator, said on CNN. “If we’re going to beat Trump, we need turnout, and to get turnout you need energy and excitement, and I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the energy that we need to defeat Trump.”

It was arguably Mr. Sanders‘ most direct and extensive attack on Mr. Biden. Until now, the senator from Vermont has more often put President Trump in the crosshairs and campaigned on general themes of soaking the rich and cracking down on big corporations.

Democratic Party strategist Hank Sheinkopf said taking on Mr. Biden is a smart strategy for the other candidates at this stage of the primary race.

“They’ve got to try to mess up his hair before Iowa and to make sure that he’s less competitive in New Hampshire,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s performance on the campaign trail has been heavily criticized, but primary voters have not settled on a clear alternative, generating a renewed sense of urgency among the other top contenders to kneecap him.

Ms. Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, laid out a proposal Tuesday to try to make it easier for debt-ridden Americans to seek bankruptcy. She clashed with Mr. Biden on the issue more than a decade ago when she was a professor.

She didn’t mention Mr. Biden by name, but she complimented several Democratic senators, including Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, for siding with her on the issue in the past.

Ms. Warren noted in a Medium post that a 2005 bill, supported by Mr. Biden, that made it harder for certain consumers to declare bankruptcy passed with “overwhelming Republican support and some Democratic support.”

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group backing Ms. Warren, said she has a clear record of corporate accountability and is the most electable Democrat in the presidential field.

“When thinking about electability, it would be complete malpractice to nominate someone who conspired in backrooms for years with credit card lobbyists and voted for every corporate bankruptcy bill, Wall Street deregulation and trade deal that voters hate,” said committee co-founder Adam Green. “Biden would ironically cede the outsider mantle to a corrupt incumbent president.”

Mr. Biden has slammed Ms. Warren’s campaign rhetoric as elitist and questioned the logistics and cost of her “Medicare for All” universal health care plan.

He also recently told reporters that he didn’t feel the need to respond to Mr. Sanders’ critiques of his foreign policy record.

“I don’t respond to Bernie’s ridiculous comments,” he said. “You’re not going to get me in a fight with Bernie. Bernie’s got enough baggage.”

Instead, Mr. Biden kept his focus on Mr. Trump. He questioned the president’s rationale for ordering an airstrike that killed Iran’s top military commander last week in Baghdad and said the White House must get the green light from Congress if the president wants to go to war with Iran.

“President Trump has no strategy here. No endgame,” Mr. Biden said in a speech in New York. “And here’s the hardest truth of all: His constant mistakes and poor decision-making have left us with a severely limited slate of options for how to move forward, and most of the options are bad.”

Far-left activists didn’t ease up on the establishment front-runner in the race. They jabbed Mr. Biden for once again misspeaking, this time by saying “the Iran parliament voted to eject all Americans and coalition forces from the country.”

It was the Iraqi parliament that voted to expel U.S. troops.

Though Mr. Biden has fallen behind in some state-level polling, the incoming fire underscores his standing as the clear front-runner, said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist.

“There’s been a number of candidates in the primary who have attacked Biden who are no longer around politically to talk about it, and I don’t know if it’s a smart strategy to attack Vice President Biden,” he said. “That [seemed] to make him stronger with some very important constituencies in the party when these attacks ramp up.”

Mr. Biden has retained solid support among black voters, many of whom rushed to his defense when he was assailed last year for supporting a 1994 crime bill that critics say paved the way for the mass incarceration of people of color.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California famously confronted Mr. Biden at a debate last year over his record on desegregation busing.

But Ms. Harris equivocated on the issue later and failed to sustain her brief bump in the polls after the exchange. She dropped out of the Democratic race last month.

“I’ve been clear about this from the beginning: I think we should focus on running for our party’s nomination and not against each other,” Mr. Seawright said.

Mr. Biden’s central pitch is that he is the most electable Democrat in a head-to-head matchup against Mr. Trump and that his coattails will help pull Democrats in tough House and Senate races across the finish line.

“It’s not enough for the next nominee of the Democratic Party merely to win the presidency,” he said Tuesday at a fundraiser in New York, according to a pool report of the event. “That nominee is going to have to be able to bring along a Democratic Senate in order to be able to get things done.”

Public polling has generally confirmed Mr. Biden’s electability argument.

A Morning Consult poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Biden holding a 6-point lead over Mr. Trump in a hypothetical matchup — the widest margin among a handful of top Democratic contenders.

Mr. Sanders held a 2-point lead, and Ms. Warren trailed Mr. Trump by 1 point.

Their latest attacks paint different pictures of the Sanders and Warren campaigns heading into the early state contests, Mr. Sheinkopf said.

“Sen. Sanders has already got a significant base. He’s added onto it as a function of Warren’s flub, and he’s moving straight ahead,” he said. “Bernie Sanders is playing the New Hampshire game, Elizabeth Warren is playing any game and Joe Biden believes that he’ll win in South Carolina. That’s the basic state of play.”

Not all criticism of Mr. Biden has come from the far left. More moderate candidates such as former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are battling for support from voters who are more inclined to back the former vice president.

Mr. Buttigieg criticized Mr. Biden last month for supporting “the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq.”

“This is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment,” Mr. Buttigieg said on Iowa Public Television.

Mr. Biden responded by saying he would put up his foreign policy record against anyone else’s and that people should look at the vote in context. He has said President George W. Bush misled him at the time about the scope of the Iraq conflict.

TV’s “Judge Judy” Sheindlin, who recently endorsed former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, also delivered a backhanded “compliment” to Mr. Biden this week.

“Joe Biden is a very nice man. I’m sure he is,” she said on CNN. “He wasn’t great for 40 years — wasn’t great … so nothing’s changed, except he’s gotten older.”

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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