Why Biden is keeping his distance from the Trump impeachment

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President Biden made some news–though not as much as Tom Brady–in his Super Bowl interview with CBS.

Biden told Norah O’Donnell he would cut off classified intelligence briefings for Donald Trump because his predecessor, even before the insurrection, has been “erratic.”

But the White House soon rushed out a clarification saying the decision would actually be made by federal intelligence officials.

That captured the ambivalence that the 46th president displays toward the 45th, which is why he’s staying light-years away from the impeachment trial that starts today. 

Jen Psaki was asked again just yesterday whether her boss thinks Trump should be convicted and barred from holding public office. The press secretary stuck to her disciplined answer, which is that Biden may have spent 36 years in the Senate but is no longer a senator.

With Biden rarely criticizing Trump directly–except to say things like the last administration screwed up the vaccine distribution–there are two main reasons why he’s staying light-years away from impeachment.

First, the president knows, like everyone else on the planet, that Trump will be easily acquitted. Why invest your capital in a losing proposition, with the Democrats fated to fall short no matter what they do? This way Biden can attempt to stay above the fray.

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Second, every minute that Biden is talking about the futile impeachment attempt is a minute he’s not using to sell his own program. And by program, I mean the massive Covid aid package that will define the success or failure of his term.

Unlike the fierce emotions aroused by Trump, the Biden package is strikingly popular. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the $1.9-trillion measure in a new Quinnipiac poll. And that includes 37 percent of Republicans. No wonder the administration has been citing polls in calling the bill bipartisan, as opposed to the failure to draw support from GOP lawmakers who, at most, want to spend less than one-third as much.

True, the Democrats will probably have to end-run the filibuster by pushing the package through on a party-line vote. But if it helps revive the economy through a mixture of stimulus checks, jobless benefits, ramped-up vaccinations, resurrected small businesses, and reopened schools, who’s going to care about a process argument six months or a year from now?

In fact, Politico reports that Democratic strategists now envision “midterm attack ads portraying Republicans as willing to slash taxes for the wealthy but too stingy to cut checks for people struggling during the deadly pandemic.”

So Biden has two choices. He can focus on the future, which would include minimum wage, climate change, infrastructure, and other parts of his liberal agenda. Or he can fight the battles of the past, trying to score points with his base by crusading against Trump and Trumpism but muddying the unity he promised in the campaign.

Not exactly a close call.

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This is the reason that Biden, along with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, wants the trial over as quickly as possible. Trying to convict the private citizen at Mar-a-Lago not only delays Senate passage of the new president’s big-ticket items, it consumes most of the available media oxygen. And in the end, Trump gets off and declares victory.

Biden will be so busy with White House work that he won’t have much time to watch the impeachment trial, Psaki told reporters. Whether that’s strictly true or not, it makes political sense to stick to that story.