Joe Biden made a quick in-and-out trip to Utah on Saturday for an invitation-only Park City fundraiser and in a speech to about 200 supporters made no mention of the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats this week.
The Democratic presidential candidate, however, did hammer his often-repeated theme of restoring the nation’s soul, as he referred to President Donald Trump’s restrictions and rants against immigrants, the rise of white supremacist groups in recent years and a foreign policy of supporting political strongmen and oppressive regimes.
“Because folks, this is not who we are," Biden said. "This is not the nation we are, putting kids in cages and embracing [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in front of the world stage, criticizing the American intelligence community, undermining our [security] around the world and embracing people who are just flat thugs internationally.
"The problem with it all is it has done great, great, great damage to our standing in the world and quite frankly, to our security.”
Biden said people are left wondering, “What in God’s name is happening in the United States?”
A day earlier, in Las Vegas, in a campaign stop that was his first public appearance since the start of the impeachment inquiry, Biden declared that Trump had “violated his oath of office,” and was attempting to enlist foreign assistance to “hijack this election,” The New York Times reported.
Trump “may have committed a crime,” The Times quoted Biden, who has not said whether he supports impeachment.
The more low-key Utah event was scheduled at the home of Amy and Barry Baker, longtime media executives who have hosted other top-tier Democrats in past elections, including Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. An invitation listed several levels of donations ranging from $500 for a “friend” to $2,800 per person for a “sponsor.”
Former U.S. Ambassador Mark Gilbert, former Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland and John Cumming, the founder of Park City-based Powdr, all were scheduled to appear with Biden. In the audience Saturday was Julie McAdams, wife of Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s sole Democrat in Congress.
Barry Baker is the former president of USA Networks and is a senior adviser to Lee Equity Partners, a private equity and venture-capital firm. Amy Baker spent a couple of decades at NBC News.
In introducing Biden, Barry Baker called him “the guy who should be president of the United States." And, referring to Trump, he said, “We cannot let this lying, narcissistic” — someone yelled out ‘Traitor’ — "traitor, cheater. I’ve played golf with him, I can tell you he cheats.”
Biden referred several times to the 2017 white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a counterprotester was run over by a speeding car and Trump’s later remarks about “good people on both sides.”
“If you give oxygen to prejudice, it comes out from under the rocks," Biden said. "If you give oxygen to hate, it moves. It continues to come back. We’ve been here before.”
Biden ended his 20-minute speech by referring to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 moonshot speech — making the point that anything is possible when America is united and puts its mind to it.
"So let’s get the hell up, remember who we are, take back the country and make America the envy of the world again,” he said.
Biden supporter Scott Howell, a former Utah state senator and U.S. Senate candidate, said this would not be the last visit of the candidate to the solidly Republican state — that he had promised to return later in the campaign for a public event.
Long the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Biden recently has been battling a surge by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who some polls — although not most — show pulling even or slightly ahead.
More challenging to the Biden campaign may be the constant battering he is taking from the current occupant of the White House. Trump has ramped up allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter, for the latter’s involvement in a Ukrainian energy company. A new ad by the Trump re-election campaign alleges — without evidence — that Biden when he was vice president paid $1 billion to the country to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Hunter Biden.
Unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing by Biden and his son were at the center of Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president that has become the catalyst for an impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-controlled House. Trump wanted assurances that a former Ukrainian prosecutor would be reinstated and he would press an investigation of the Bidens.
After the conversation, senior White House officials intervened to “lock down” the transcript — placing it into a secure server reserved for top-secret national security information and not intended for limiting access to politically sensitive records, according to the whistleblower complaint that ultimately flushed the issue into the open.
The whistleblower suggested that this action constituted a cover-up by top White House officials who knew how serious the matter was, and wrote that White House officials told him this “was not the first time” politically sensitive records had been treated as state secrets.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that a former White House official confirmed that memos detailing Trump’s phone conversations with other foreign leaders, including Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman were also closely guarded secrets. AP’s unnamed source described this as an attempt to prevent embarrassing leaks rather than to hide inappropriate discussion.
Biden is among the several Democratic contenders who have traveled to solidly Republican Utah to gin up support for a crucial primary day — March 3 — with 15 states and American Samoa casting ballots. Utah lawmakers moved the state’s primary up to join Super Tuesday.
Warren visited the state in April and touted her plan for public lands, including restoring the original boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments that Trump slashed by 2 million acres.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro swung by in February and called himself the “antithesis of Donald Trump,” and Rep. John Delaney of Maryland was in the state in January.
A political activist had touted a forthcoming visit to Utah by Sen. Kamala Harris of California, though that turned out to be a hoax and the senator was never scheduled to visit the Beehive State.