GOP Iowa senator suggests Trump impeachment defense could hurt Biden at caucuses

Iowa Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Health Care: Ernst endorses bipartisan bill to lower drug prices | US partnering with drugmakers on coronavirus vaccine | UN chief says virus poses 'enormous' risks Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Progressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa MORE (R) suggested Monday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE's legal team's focus on Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE and his son during its ongoing impeachment arguments could hurt the former vice president during next week's caucuses. 

"Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening, and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters," Ernst said of the first-in-the-nation 2020 vote. "Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point? Not sure about that."

Ernst made the remarks to reporters shortly after Trump's defense team zeroed in on allegations of a conflict of interest involving Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden during the Senate impeachment trial. 

For about 30 minutes, Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general who recently joined the White House communications team to help with impeachment messaging, laid out the argument that it was appropriate for Trump to raise the Bidens during his now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call, in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate the Bidens as well as an unfounded theory about 2016 election interference — helped lead to the House impeachment inquiry. 

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Democrats have argued that the request, which came after Trump delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv, amounts to the president abusing his office for personal gain. 

Joe Biden's supporters were quick to seize on Ernst's comments as supporting the idea that Republicans only want to handicap Trump's opponents in November's election.

"Senator Ernst just said the quiet part out loud: Republicans are terrified that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee, defeat Donald Trump, and help progressives up and down the ballot win seats in the House and take the Senate. Donald Trump himself was so afraid of running against Joe Biden that he became the only president in American history who tried to force a foreign country to lie on behalf of his struggling re-election campaign," Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Joe Biden, said in a statement.

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The Hill has reached out to Ernst's office for further comment.

Bondi argued that Trump had a "basis" to raise the Bidens because he was concerned with rooting out corruption in Ukraine. She specifically focused on Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company that employed Hunter Biden, walking through evidence dating back several years to argue that the firm was corrupt. 

She later played video of witness testimony from the House proceedings in which former administration officials said that Hunter Biden's role with the company while his father served as vice president represented a possible conflict of interest. She claimed his place on the board was “nepotistic at best, nefarious at worst.” 

Bondi also used her presentation to note that Joe Biden worked to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma.

There is zero evidence to suggest Joe Biden was working in his son's interest, and Shokin had been widely criticized by Western nations for his failure to rein in corruption.  

Polls show Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.) and Biden leading the Democratic primary race in Iowa. On Monday, Sanders had a 3-point edge in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Updated at 9:21 p.m.