Biden’s votes, words on Iraq become hurdle in 2020

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official MORE's words and policy positions on the Iraq War could come back to haunt him if he enters the race for the White House.

Biden is popular with Democrats, polls show he leads most of his competitors in the 2020 field and a survey this week found more than 60 percent want him in the race. He routinely leads polls of Democrats asked to pick their favored presidential candidate.

But his words on Iraq from nearly two decades ago sound out-of-step with the increasingly left-leaning party he would be seeking to lead. 

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Biden backed the resolution giving former President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq, and he also praised the president in a Senate floor speech at the time for his handling of the case for war.

“President Bush did not lash out precipitously at Iraq after 9/11. He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss new inspection regimes. He did not ignore Congress,” Biden said in a 2002 floor speech given during the debate over legislation authorizing action against Iraq.

“At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation, and I believe he will continue to do so. At least, that is my fervent hope,” Biden said. “I wish he would turn down the rhetorical excess in some cases because I think it undercuts the decision he ends up making. But in each case in my view he has made the right rational calm deliberate decision."

The former vice president has since said he regrets his vote, though he has put much of the blame on Bush for his handling of the war.  

“It was a mistake,” Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press in 2005. “It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly. … We gave the president the authority to unite the world to isolate Saddam. And the fact of the matter is, we went too soon. We went without sufficient force, and we went without a plan.” 

Iraq is no longer a huge issue in American politics, unlike in 2008 when former President Obama’s opposition to the war may have been the main reason he defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid MORE in that year’s Democratic primary. Clinton, like Biden, supported the resolution authorizing force in Iraq.

At the same time, Biden’s defense of the Iraq war makes for an easy attack ad for opponents to argue that despite the former vice president’s experience, he does not always make the right calls on policy.

“If he decides to get in, I assume one of the top issues he's going to have to deal with is the Iraq war,” said Democratic strategist and longtime Senate veteran Jim Manley. “It may have been awhile ago but concerns about foreign entanglements overseas have only increased within the Democratic Party.”

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Biden, if he runs, is likely to be the only Democratic candidate who was part of the Iraq debate. As a result, it’s a political problem that may be unique to Biden in 2020. Even President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE is running as an opponent of the Iraq War. Trump is now seeking to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, though he has talked of putting troops in Iraq to watch over Syria.

“No one is going to have a bigger problem with [Iraq] than Joe Biden and that particular vote,” Manley added. “It puts him at odds with most of the party and even though he's apologized for it, he's going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

A Biden spokesman declined to comment for this story. 

While it’s been nearly two decades since the controversial vote, Democrats expect it will come up again in 2020 — particularly with Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Mass.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.) in the mix. 

To be sure, it’s not the only old policy or vote that Biden will need to defend.

Even Biden allies think he faces a bigger potential risk in the current political climate from his handling of the Anita Hill hearings during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.

Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for those hearings, which focused on Hill’s claims of sexual harassment against Thomas. 

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, predicted that Biden's Iraq vote “will come up but will likely not be as potent in this current climate compared to his questioning of Anita Hill.”

Biden’s son Beau Biden, who died of cancer in 2015, served in Iraq. Smikle said the deployment of Biden’s son would give voters insight into his thinking on the matter. 

Biden could also gain support on the issue by the mere fact that Obama selected him to be his vice president even in spite of the vote.

“And if you start attacking Biden about that, you’re essentially attacking Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump has 62 percent disapproval rating in new AP poll Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Obama explains decision to get into movie business: 'We all have a sacred story' MORE and that’s a dangerous path to go down,” said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “If you want to make this a referendum on Obama that’s dangerous considering he’s still the most popular politician in Democratic politics.”