Ernst walks back her Biden impeachment remarks

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Politics and the pandemic — Republicans are rightly worried Ernst calls for public presidential campaign funds to go to masks, protective equipment MORE (R-Iowa) on Monday walked back her comments a day earlier warning that Congress could immediately impeach Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump shakes up WH communications team The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic The Intercept's Ryan Grim says Cuomo is winning over critics MORE over his Ukraine dealings if he’s elected president in November.  

Speaking with reporters just off the Senate floor, Ernst said her weekend remarks were overblown and that she was trying to argue that Democrats have made impeachment — once a political tool reserved for extreme circumstances — the new normal in today’s partisan warfare. 

“That was taken entirely out of context. The point is that the Democrats have lowered the bar so far that ... regardless of who it is, if you have a different party in the House than that of an elected president, you can have just random comments thrown out there with folks saying we’re going to impeach,” Ernst said when asked by The Hill about her earlier Biden comments. 

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“So, no, it was taken out of context. I didn’t say what the headlines [said] but simply that we‘ve lowered the bar so much, is this really what the American people want? And I would say no, it’s not,” she continued.

Just a day earlier in her home state of Iowa, Ernst, an ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE, specifically singled out the former vice president during an interview with Bloomberg News, warning that Biden “should be careful what he’s asking for” by pushing for Trump’s conviction.  

“I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” Ernst said. “Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’”

Biden, Ernst said, could be impeached “for being assigned to take on Ukrainian corruption yet turning a blind eye to Burisma because his son was on the board making over a million dollars a year.” 

Biden’s son Hunter was hired by the Ukrainian natural gas company in the spring of 2014. At the time, his father was focused, under the direction of President Obama, with cracking down on corruption in Ukraine.

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The former vice president and his son have acknowledged the situation looks bad, but they have denied any wrongdoing, and it has not been shown that Biden was acting with his son in mind. Indeed, there is evidence that Biden was acting as part of an Obama policy that was also reflected in the actions of other Western allies at the time.

Five years later, the Bidens would feature prominently in the impeachment investigation into Trump. Multiple administration officials testified that the president engaged in a campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House meeting. Trump and his staunch allies have denied any wrongdoing by the president.    

During the impeachment trial that’s slated to wrap up Wednesday, Ernst, a member of Senate GOP leadership who is facing reelection this fall, has become one of Trump’s most vocal defenders. And ahead of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, Ernst has engaged in a nasty back-and-forth with Biden that has gone on for days.

Last week, as Trump’s defense team turned its focus to the Bidens and Burisma, Ernst stepped before the TV cameras and suggested that Trump’s impeachment trial could hurt Biden’s chances with caucusgoers in her home state.

“I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucusgoers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?” she said. “Not certain.”

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Biden seized on those comments, arguing that Ernst had “spilled the beans” and said out loud that Trump’s defense team is zeroing in on Burisma to harm Biden’s electoral chances.

He urged Iowans to “ruin Donald Trump’s night by caucusing for me" and to "ruin Joni Ernst’s night as well.” The former vice president also told The Des Moines Register that it appeared Trump, Ernst and other Republicans are scared to face him in November.

“She just reinforces everything that was the reason why the president was being impeached: They very much don’t want to face me obviously," Biden told the newspaper. "I’ve never seen a sitting president and his allies this frightened about who may be the nominee.”

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens GOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC MORE (R-N.D.), another Trump ally, chided Democrats for rushing to impeach Trump over the Ukraine matter and Republicans for impeaching President Clinton for lying about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.  

“Both political parties [should] reflect on this notion that comes right from the Founders: If all you can get is one party to vote for an impeachment inquiry, don’t do it. And if you do do it, and you can’t get a single member of the other party to vote for impeachment, end it,” Cramer told reporters during a break in the Senate trial. 

“There is a reason the standard is so high and the Democrats have violated it this year, and I hope it’s a lesson to all of us. And by the way, Republicans didn’t do much better with Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHistory's lessons for Donald Trump Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus Budowsky: President Trump, meet with all former living presidents MORE,” he added. “Unless we want to have these things every decade or so, we should get back to a higher standard.”