Will GOP attacks on Hunter Biden hurt Joe Biden in 2024?

WASHINGTON – It was supposed to be a routine hearing.

But the night before Hunter Biden was to appear in federal court in Delaware on misdemeanor tax charges, a Republican congressman, Jason Smith of Missouri, made a last-ditch effort to derail a plea agreement that would keep President Joe Biden’s youngest son out of jail.

Smith asked a judge to throw out the deal, arguing in a legal brief that the investigation into Hunter Biden had been tainted by political interference.

The White House and congressional Democrats suspect the GOP is using Hunter Biden to advance its own political agenda: To damage Joe Biden heading into next year’s election. Hunter Biden, a 53-year-old attorney and businessman, holds no public office and has no official role in his father’s government — unlike Ivanka Trump who held a policy job out of the White House as did her husband Jared Kushner. But his foibles have provided ammunition for those who want to inflict harm on Joe Biden and his presidency.

“Hunter Biden, I want to remind the (Republican) majority, is actually not the president of the United States,” Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., said recently during a GOP-led congressional hearing in which two IRS whistleblowers claimed the Justice Department interfered in an IRS investigation into the president’s son.

Americans want their presidents to be honest and trustworthy, attributes considered so important that pollsters often ask voters to rate those characteristics in a president or presidential candidate.

In past election cycles, falsehoods have come back to plague campaigns, such as George W. Bush’s erroneous claims that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” or Bill Clinton’s denials of extramarital affairs. Honesty could become a central issue in next year’s election since the GOP nominee is likely to be Donald Trump, who has repeatedly spread baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election.

By going after Hunter Biden, Republicans are trying to sow doubts about his father, said author Joshua Kendall, whose book, “First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama,” explores the relationships between presidents and their children.

“Republicans are certainly trying to slime the president’s character through his son,” Kendall said.

While the GOP investigations into Hunter Biden often have seemed like a mud-slinging contest, they have raised legitimate questions about what involvement, if any, Joe Biden had in his son’s business dealings, Kendall said. But Republicans don’t help their case when they pull stunts like waving Hunter Biden’s nude photos in front of television cameras, he said.

“If Republicans can calmly make their case, they would get more Democrats to listen,” Kendall said. “But they’re just in his hyper-partisan, just kind of going for the throats rather than laying out a case.’’

At the White House, questions about Hunter Biden are quickly shut down and dismissed as a personal family matter.

Hunter Biden, the youngest son of President Joe Biden, is the target of congressional investigations and GOP attacks.

Hunter Biden, the youngest son of President Joe Biden, is the target of congressional investigations and GOP attacks.

Hunter Biden’s foibles fuel GOP attacks

Hunter Biden’s personal and professional transgressions – which range from substance abuse and fathering a daughter out of wedlock to questionable business dealings in China and Ukraine and legal issues over his taxes – have provided sensational grist for his and his father’s Republican agitators.

When Hunter Biden and the mother of his four-year-old daughter settled a child support dispute last month, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., berated Joe Biden as “cold, heartless, selfish and cowardly” for failing to acknowledge the young girl as his seventh grandchild. The president publicly acknowledged the child for the first time on Friday.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., stoked outrage last week when, during a congressional hearing, she held up posters with blown-up photos of what appeared to be a nude Hunter Biden engaging in sex acts. The photos reportedly came from a laptop that Biden left at a computer repair shop in 2019.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., ratcheted up the rhetoric even further, suggesting last week that Republican investigations into Hunter Biden’s business dealings could trigger an impeachment inquiry against his father.

Republicans have been trying to tie Joe Biden to his son’s overseas business dealings and point to unverified claims that Hunter Biden put his father, who was vice president at the time, on the phone with foreign business associates. Three GOP-led committees also have opened a joint investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of the tax charges against Hunter Biden amid what they claim is improper interference in the case.

Wednesday’s court hearing on the tax evasion case took a dramatic turn when Hunter Biden’s plea agreement with prosecutors collapsed amid questions over the terms of the deal.

Biden agreed in June to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of tax evasion in exchange for prosecutors recommending that he receive probation instead of jail time. The deal also called for Biden to participate in a pretrial program for a gun possession offense.

But U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika refused to accept the plea bargain and raised several concerns over the specifics of the deal and her role in the proceedings. The judge said lawyers need to resolve issues with the agreement, including her role in enforcing the gun agreement, before moving forward. As a result, Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty.

Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican who chairs one of the House committees investigating Hunter Biden, suggested the judge’s decision gave credibility to the committee’s probe.

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Joe Biden on Hunter: ‘I’m very proud of my son’

Privately, the White House views congressional investigations into the president’s son as a politically motivated abuse of power by the House Republican majority to hurt Joe Biden ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign.

For his part, Joe Biden has made no effort to distance himself from his son. “I’m very proud of my son,” he told reporters after Hunter Biden struck the plea agreement on the tax evasion charges. Hunter Biden has attended state dinners and sometimes joins his father and other family members for weekends at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

No other child of a sitting president who didn’t hold a public role has faced the same level of scrutiny as Hunter Biden, said David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College and an expert on presidential politics and polarization.

At times, the antics of other presidential offspring have caused angst for their fathers.

Alice Roosevelt smoked in public and snuck whiskey into dry parties – scandalous behavior at the time and an embarrassment for her dad, Theodore Roosevelt, who once said he could either be president or control his daughter but could not possibly do both.

Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, wrote what many regarded as a semi-autobiographical novel about a daughter who becomes estranged from her parents, who happen to be the president and first lady. Ronald Reagan called the book “interesting fiction.” Neil Bush, the son of George H.W. Bush, became a symbol of the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s because of his involvement with Silverado Banking Savings and Loan, whose collapse cost taxpayers $1 billion.

Yet, “there’s no historical parallel to how much Hunter Biden has been the target of the congressional opposition,” Hopkins said.

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President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden arrives for a court appearance Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Wilmington.

President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden arrives for a court appearance Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in Wilmington.

Republicans argue Hunter Biden is fair game

Republicans and their allies insist that Hunter Biden is fair game.

“Hunter is frequently in the White House, on Air Force One and at Camp David,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist who worked as an aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and in the White House for President George W. Bush.

Hunter Biden “is a known drug addict and a criminal who has time and again exhibited horrific personal judgment,” Jennings said. “He’s made money – millions – off his father and in large part paid little tax on it if you believe the sworn testimony of IRS agents. There’s just absolute horrid judgment all the way around here, and Joe Biden appears to have more than just a passing interest or involvement in it.”

Even Hunter’s business dealings in Delaware dating back to his father’s time as vice president show how the Biden name helped get business proposals in front of state officials and how easy it was for lines to blur between financial endeavors and politics.

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Will attacks on Hunter hurt Joe Biden?

If the GOP goal in attacking Hunter Biden is to wound his father ahead of next year’s election, there’s no evidence it’s working.

Just one-fourth of voters (27%) in a Morning Consult poll in June said investigating Hunter Biden’s finances should be a top priority for Congress. Even among Republicans, fewer than half (46%) said Hunter Biden’s finances should be a top priority.

“Hunter Biden is not Joe Biden,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz said. “The public cares about what the president does. They don’t care about his son.”

Marcel Cook, a Biden supporter, said the Hunter Biden drama doesn’t affect his thoughts on the president.

“We don’t have control of our children – when they’re grown, what can you do?” said Cook, who has worked nearly 24 years at Philly Shipyard in Philadelphia, which Biden visited recently to promote his administration’s economic agenda.

“I’m looking at Biden, not his kids,” Cook said.

Ralph Grecco, who also works at Philly Shipyard and voted for Donald Trump in 2020, said he’s less concerned about the controversies surrounding Hunter Biden and more worried about the economy, which he said isn’t improving fast enough.

As for Hunter Biden’s troubles, “I look at that as a personal thing, a family matter,” he said.

Even some Republicans seem to question the fixation on Hunter Biden.

“I think when we get home, the focus is the economy, the border, crime,” Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico. “These are the issues that matter and these are the issues we’re talking about.”

Hunter Biden, he said, is a “focus in D.C.,” not everywhere else.

Contributing: Joey Garrison

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hunter Biden: Will GOP attacks on son hurt Joe Biden in 2024 election?

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