One of the reasons Joe Biden may not survive the long haul of the Democratic presidential nomination process is his regular failure to think through what he’s about to say.
It shows up not just in spontaneous verbal gaffes, but sometimes even with questions he should be anticipating.
For example, while campaigning in Iowa recently, Biden told the state’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, that he would not comply if he is subpoenaed to testify before the Senate when it holds the impeachment trial for President Donald Trump.
By the next day, Biden backtracked — apparently after seeing that his initial stand was drawing a negative public reaction — and said at a town hall meeting that he would comply with a subpoena.
Although the about-face was needed, it is baffling that Biden didn’t see his initial inclination to ignore subpoenas from the Republican-majority Senate would be no different than President Trump’s refusal to honor subpoenas during the House impeachment hearings from that Democratic-controlled chamber.
The president’s rationale for refusing to turn over documents and for ordering his current and former advisers to not testify in the House was that the inquiry was partisan and unfair. He said that he had no obligation to comply with congressional subpoenas for a process he considered illegitimate.
Biden seemed to initially make the same argument, just in reverse: namely, that Republicans in the Senate, in an effort to exonerate the president and weaken Biden’s campaign to unseat him, would use the former vice president’s testimony to try to further Trump’s bogus allegation that Biden and his son, Hunter, were tangled up in corruption in Ukraine.
The motivations for congressional subpoenas, as Biden should know from his long tenure in the Senate, are irrelevant. Those receiving them are bound to comply, barring the exemption for executive privilege, or risk being held in contempt of Congress. In fact, it is Trump’s wholesale refusal to cooperate with congressional oversight of the executive branch that produced the basis for one of the articles of impeachment against him.
Congress is under no duty to explain why it wants to look at certain documents or why it wants a certain person to testify. If it thinks, even incorrectly, that the material or testimony might be relevant, that’s good enough.
Biden’s first thought, rather than his second, should have been to uphold this principle.