President Joe Biden returns to Washington, D.C., this week following an extended vacation in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, at which point the president plans to resume his regularly scheduled campaign programming.
Still, the Fulton County indictment, booking, and accompanying mugshot of former President Donald Trump are making it harder for the president to “stick to the issues” and avoid commenting on his the legal issues plaguing his opponent in the 2024 general election.
Over the weekend, Biden faced questions from reporters about Trump’s latest legal problems and the remainder of the GOP field taking the debate stage for the first time this past week.
“I did see it on television,” the president said of Trump’s mug shot. “Handsome guy.”
“There was a lot of talk,” he added of the Republican debate. “But what are they going to do to deal with economic growth? What are they going to do to deal with the notion that maintaining the job pace that we have now? What are they going to do to deal with education?”
Trump opted to skip the debate in favor of personal counter-programming: a tape-to-live interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that aired at 9:00 p.m. ET on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter.
According to X’s own metrics, the interview earned more than 250 million views in the first 24 hours after posting, but Biden told reporters he “didn’t have an interest or inclination” to tune in at all.
The president’s brief comments on Trump and the other Republican candidates echo a general strategy outlined to the Washington Examiner by Biden campaign and senior Democratic National Committee officials: avoid diving into Trump’s legal drama, concentrate on Bidenomics, and let voters draw their own distinctions between the president’s platform and that of Republicans.
“We’re in a strong position compared to a lot of incumbents because of just how effectively we’ve governed and how much legislation we’ve backed that is overwhelmingly popular and also reflective of a lot of the key issues that we know are top laying or top voting issues for Americans,” one campaign official said in an interview. “Things like, on the kind of protecting freedoms scale of things, being against book bans, being for reproductive rights, codifying Roe into law, the freedom to be safe from gun violence, all issues that we are very much on the right side of.”
Biden’s reelection effort will largely hinge on the general state of the economy, but Democrats have circled abortion rights in particular as a top, secondary motivating issue for voters on both sides of the aisle.
Ohio’s recent voting down of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder to roll back abortion bans, coupled with Democrats’ general over-performance in the 2022 midterm elections, support that notion.
Furthermore, the framing of an abortion question, and the subsequent split in responses, Wednesday shows Republicans are also concerned about the impact abortion could have on the general election.
While some candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), backed a federal, 15-week abortion ban, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) broke from that line.
Burgum flatly stated that he believes abortion rights are a state issue and would not support any federal limits.
Haley, on the other hand, pressed her colleagues to “be honest with the American people.” She noted that there hasn’t been a “pro-life majority” in the Senate for nearly four decades and that the GOP must stop “demonizing” pro-choice Americans or risk losing their votes for good.
“No Republican president can ban abortions, any more than a Democrat president could ban all those state laws,” Haley responded. “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue when you know we don’t have 60 Senate votes.”
Still, despite the drama swirling within the GOP, Biden will stick to the same campaign script following his return to Washington, DC.
On Monday, he and the first lady will visit a local public school to kick off the 2023-2024 school year before attending an event at the White House to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
On Tuesday, Biden will deliver more healthcare-focused “Bidenomics” remarks and host Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves Robles for bilateral meetings.
The president doesn’t have any public events currently scheduled for the remainder of the week — White House officials hinted he could potentially speak on the two-year anniversary of the completed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — and is expected to return to his vacation home in Delaware on Friday for another weekend-long stay.