As Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar took to the Senate floor Tuesday to attend the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the role of the presidency was posed as a question to former Vice President Joe Biden at a town hall.
“Does the presidency matter anymore?” a man asked in Ames. “Someone has been superseding the Constitution … We don’t need a king.”
With 12 days until the Iowa caucuses, Biden is able to be on the campaign trail while his Senate competitors are sequestered in Washington, D.C. Questions from attendees at Biden’s town halls on Tuesday about America’s standing in the world, and recent foreign policy decisions, suggest they will take those days to weigh their role in preserving the role of the presidency and structure of American democracy.
“You all hold the keys to the kingdom here, you’re the first in the country,” Biden said to the crowd in Fort Dodge. “I think the character of the nation is totally out of balance … The next president is going to inherit a country that’s divided, no matter what happens in this impeachment trial.”
The impeachment trial, along with recent foreign policy decisions — like the killing of an Iranian military general — that have stirred up anxiety in some Iowa voters, was highlighted by Biden as he pitched his background as a veteran of Capitol Hill.
“The character of the nation, in my view, is on the ballot. The rest of the world is looking at us and wondering what in God’s name is happening,” Biden said in Ames. “I have spent an awful lot of time in my career dealing with foreign policy. Been to well over 100 countries around the world, I’ve gotten an opportunity to meet every major world leader — they’re confused as to who we are.”
Former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack, a Biden endorser who spoke at both of the candidate’s Tuesday town halls, said his experience should stick out when Iowans head to the polls.
“I think Iowans are motivated to vote and I think everything that’s happening in the world right now, not just impeachment, all of the events that are taking place right now … are going to help people focus on what qualities a president needs,” Vilsack told Starting Line.
Recent polls have shown Biden leading the pack with voters on issues of foreign policy. About a third of Democratic primary voters most trust Biden to handle foreign relations, according to a Morning Consult survey.
Vilsack thought the uncertainty Americans have with their place in the world might drive more people to get out to caucus.
“I think everything that’s happening right now is definitely going to affect people coming out to the caucuses, becoming more involved in feeling more responsibility to pick the right person for this time,” she said. “Not the person they necessarily love or are inspired by, but the person who is right for this time. For the next four years, for the next eight years, someone who can do it on the first day.”
On the stump, Biden also points to bridging the widening gap between Democrats and Republicans as a reason for his campaign. He argues that overcoming the divide between the two parties is essential to restoring democracy.
But his willingness to work with Republicans can be a point of criticism among some Democratic voters, including on Monday at the Brown & Black form in Des Moines. There, the moderators brought up a statement he made about potentially considering a Republican running mate, were he to be the Democratic nominee.
“We cannot sustain who we are if, in fact, we do not arrive at consensus. Our Constitution is built in a way that literally cannot function unless we can arrive at a consensus. And I’m convinced it can be done, I’ve done it my whole career,” Biden said.
The “fabric of our democracy is at risk,” Biden said, without compromise.
Norma Cornish of Webster City, agreed.
“I think that we have lost some of what the basic principles of democracy are about. We have become so focused on individual things, and things that are not that important,” Cornish, 61, said after Biden’s Fort Dodge event. “We have forgotten that we have to work together with everybody. We are a country that has to stand together. And if we don’t, we’re going to slit our own throats.”
Barbara Rom is from Detroit, Michigan, but is spending 10 days in Iowa ahead of the caucuses to see the Democratic slate of candidates. She said she spends half the year in France, and confirmed that America’s standing is being questioned abroad.
“We actually live half the year in France, so we’re acutely aware of how the rest of the world thinks of us. It’s not monolithic, they have differences in their view of America just like there are differences here,” Rom, 70, said. “When they’re abroad, the thing foreigners are most shocked about is gun violence. They can’t fathom what is going on.”
Fort Dodge resident David Bradley also hoped the country could come together. The 74-year-old is a Biden supporter.
“I think it’s one of the most important elections we’ve had,” Bradley said. “We got to get back to integrity in the United States and stand up for one another instead of just one party or side. I just feel like if a friend of mine treated me like the president treated other people, we wouldn’t be friends anymore.”
By Isabella Murray