Republicans rediscover their interest in cheap shots at Joe Biden

When Biden was faltering, Republicans lost interest in attacking him. This week, the GOP has decided he's worth targeting again.
Image: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally Monday, March 2, 2020, at Texas Southern University in Houston.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally Monday, March 2, 2020, at Texas Southern University in Houston.Michael Wyke / AP
Get the Msnbc newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Steve Benen

When Joe Biden finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary, the former vice president became a less enticing target for Republicans.

Donald Trump and his allies had spent months worrying about the Delaware Democrat's candidacy -- to the point that the president tried to extort his Ukrainian counterpart into creating anti-Biden dirt -- but after the first couple of nominating contests, some in the GOP stopped seeing Biden as an electoral threat.

That assessment has changed in a hurry. With the former vice president easily winning the South Carolina primary, and many leading party voices coalescing around his campaign, Donald Trump devoted quite a bit of time during his North Carolina rally last night attacking Biden as a gaffe-prone old man. (The president failed to appreciate the irony of him complaining about someone else's verbal missteps.)

On Capitol Hill, Trump's allies are gearing up, too.

A key senator is threatening to issue a subpoena for records related to former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter and his work for a Ukrainian energy firm -- the most significant escalation yet in an investigation that has divided Senate Republicans.

Politico obtained a letter from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who "told members of the panel that he will soon schedule a business meeting to vote on a subpoena for the documents, which are purportedly related to Hunter Biden's role on the board of the Ukrainian firm, Burisma."

For now, let's put aside the fact that the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee should probably be more interested in the ongoing public-health emergency, and less interested in pursuing partisan vendettas. Instead, there are two key elements that are worth keeping in mind.

First, all available facts make clear that the Burisma "story," to the extent that it can even be characterized as a story, is meaningless. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained in a great piece in January, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, among other Republicans, was on board with Biden's reform efforts in Ukraine in 2016. It's why, four years later, it's difficult to see the senator's renewed interest in the matter as sincere.

And second, Johnson's new subpoena threats are lacking in subtlety. The committee chairman was gearing up to go after Biden when he looked like the Democratic frontrunner; Republicans then shifted their focus when Biden was faltering; and now Johnson has decided anew that the manufactured "controversy" needs Senate scrutiny.

Johnson's letter appears to be dated March 1 -- which means it was written the day after Biden's South Carolina primary victory.