NEW YORK (AP) — As he gears up for re-election, President Joe Biden is already facing questions about his ability to convince voters that the economy is performing well. There is skepticism about the 80-year-old president’s ability to manage a second term. And on Friday, Biden suffered another setback when Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel to investigate his son, Hunter.
Biden’s challenges pale in comparison to his predecessor and possible future rival, Donald Trump, who faces three criminal charges, with more charges expected soon. But the appointment of the special counsel was nevertheless a reminder of the vulnerabilities Biden faces as he wages another election campaign in a highly uncertain political climate.
There was little immediate sign that Garland’s decision would meaningfully change Biden’s position within his party. In any case, it underlined the unprecedented nature of the next election. Instead of a battle of ideas waged on the traditional campaign trail, the next step to the presidency could be sudden legal twists and turns in courtrooms from Washington to Delaware and Miami.
“Before Trump, this would be a big deal,” Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said of Friday’s announcement. ‘Well, I don’t think it means anything. Trump has made everyone so numb to this stuff.”
Referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Buckley added: “Because MAGA America is dismissive of the very real crimes committed by Trump and his family, it has numbed the minds of swing voters and Democratic voters or activists who would normally are fully engaged and outraged.”
Polls have consistently shown that Democratic voters were unenthusiastic about Biden’s reelection, even before Garland’s announcement.
Only 47% of Democrats wanted Biden to run again in 2024, according to an AP-NORC poll conducted in April. Democrats’ enthusiasm for Biden’s presidential campaign consistently lagged Republicans’ enthusiasm for Trump’s: 55% of Republicans said they wanted Trump to reenter the AP-NORC poll. And Biden’s approval ratings, at 40% in the most recent Gallup poll, are lower than those of virtually every other president in modern times except Jimmy Carter.
Garland announced Friday that he is appointing David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, as the special counsel in the Hunter Biden investigation. It comes as plea discussions regarding tax and gun charges in the case Weiss was already investigating have reached a deadlock.
The appointment of a special counsel ensures that Trump is not alone as the only presidential candidate grappling with the fallout of a serious criminal investigation in the middle of the 2024 campaign season.
Of course, the cases are hardly even in the context of the next presidential election.
There is no evidence that President Biden himself committed any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Trump has been charged with conspiracy to undermine democracy for his actions leading up to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
He also faces separate charges of refusing to hand over classified documents after leaving the White House and financial crimes in New York in connection with a hush money case involving a porn star. And prosecutors in Georgia are investigating whether Trump broke state laws by interfering in the 2020 election.
Still, Republicans hoped the new special counsel could ultimately divert attention from Trump’s baggage while amplifying conservative calls to impeach the Democratic president, a proposal that has long divided the GOP on Capitol Hill. searched for evidence linking Hunter Biden’s alleged misdeeds to his father.
Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has already obtained thousands of pages of financial records from various members of the Biden family through subpoenas to the Treasury Department and various financial institutions as part of a congressional investigation. He released a statement Friday accusing Garland of “obfusing congressional oversight.”
Comer vowed to “follow the Biden family’s money trail”.
Trump, the overwhelming frontrunner in the overcrowded run for the Republican presidential election, took the opportunity to put his likely general election opponent on the defensive, referring to the “Biden crime family” and the “Biden cartel.”
“If this special counsel is truly independent — even though he has failed to press charges properly after four years of investigation and appears to be trying to move the case to a more Democratic-friendly location — he will quickly conclude that Joe Biden, his troubled son Hunter , and their facilitators, including the media, who colluded with the 51 intelligence officials who knowingly misled the public about Hunter’s laptop, should suffer consequences,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.
Back in New Hampshire, Buckley acknowledged that voters are not thrilled about Biden’s re-election.
“But they’re really not excited about Trump,” he said. “There is a seriousness about this election. People can say they are not thrilled (about Biden). They can say, “Oh, he shouldn’t run again.” But the reality is that he is the only alternative to Trump.”
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how closely key voters are paying attention.
A Marquette Law School poll conducted last month found that about three-quarters of Americans had heard about Hunter Biden’s agreement to plead guilty to felony tax evasion charges and a gun charge. Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to say they had heard “a lot” about the topic, while independents were much less likely to pay attention.
Democratic strategist Bill Burton suggested that the GOP’s focus on the president’s son would backfire.
“From a political point of view, I think Republicans are stupid to spend so much time talking about the president’s son,” he said. “People are going to vote on the economy. They are going to vote on who is harder on social media companies and national security.”
Burton continued, “As a father, I think it’s pretty disgusting that you would attack someone’s son in this way.”
Washington AP Polls and Surveys reporter Linley Sanders contributed.