In Atkinson, Biden tells voters to focus on ‘context’ when discussing his record

  • Democratic presidential candidate, former vice president Joe Biden debates Sarah Kate Feferman, an activist with the group “If Not Now,” after an event in Atkinson on Saturday. Jake Sheridan / Monitor staff

  • Vice President Joe Biden takes a selfie with supporters after an Atkinson campaign house party on Saturday, July 13th, 2019. —Jake Sheridan

  • Former vice president Joe Biden speaks at an Atkinson campaign house party on Saturday. Jake Sheridan / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/13/2019 7:22:51 PM

As he paced across the patio, sometimes pausing to peer into the lush backyard packed with cameras and people, former vice president Joe Biden oscillated between promoting and defending his past.

“I’m proud of my record. Did I make mistakes? Sure I’ve made mistakes, but you have to know context,” Biden told the crowd gathered behind former New Hampshire House candidate Kate Delfino’s house at a Saturday campaign event.

Minutes later, a man lowered his daughter off his shoulders and asked Biden how he was different from the two dozen other Democrats in the field. Experience, of course, Biden answered, highlighting his point by talking about getting back into the Paris climate agreement, which every Democratic candidate running has promised to rejoin.

“Others may try to do it but I think I’m better equipped because I know these leaders,” said Biden, clad in dark oval sunglasses and a cuffed blue button down shirt.

Another man asked Biden why he voted to invade Iraq.

“My mistake was looking a man in the eye who had lied to me,” said Biden, who voted in the Senate to authorize the use of military force in Iraq in 2002. He claimed credit for the removal of troops from the Middle East during the Obama presidency.

In his short stump speech, the leading Democratic candidate offered the three-point platform he brought to New Hampshire on his last visit: restore the soul of America, restore the middle class, restore unity.

“We have to unite this country. I know that’s not very much in vogue these days,” he said. “I’m told, ‘Biden thinks we can go back to the old days.’ I don’t want to go back to anything old.”

“We must defeat Donald Trump,” he concluded moments later, yielding unanimous applause.

Biden needs to win the primary first, and his once massive lead is shrinking as candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris loom behind him. He criticized all three for their support of Medicare for All, reasoning it would destroy Obamacare.

“I don’t know why we get rid of what was in fact working and move to something totally new,” Biden said.

When the event concluded, Biden came down to the grass. As he mingled with the crowd, an activist caught his attention and, with their voices drowned out by the crowd, the two locked into a debate on what the young woman called Biden’s failure to criticize Israel for occupying Palestinian territory. As the heated discussion dragged on, Biden raised his finger at the woman, moved his face within inches of hers and slid off his thin-rimmed aviators.

“I felt that he was trying to intimidate me,” said Sarah Kate Feferman, the woman Biden confronted. “That, in combination with hearing him use the same talking point… it’s so disheartening.”

Feferman, who advocates for “If Not Now,” a progressive Jewish group opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Biden refused to get specific on Israel policy. Aviva Schwartz, who was with Feferman, saw a pattern.

“The level of confidence that he rests on the number of times he’s been in the Oval Office or met with leaders seems to totally outweigh his actual ideas,” Schwartz said. “It feels like ‘Things need to stay how I want them to stay.’ It doesn’t feel very forward-moving to me.”

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the interaction.

(Jake Sheridan can be reached at jsheridan@cmonitor.com.)



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