ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday for the first time that President Donald Trump must be impeached for abusing the powers of his office to help his own reelection.
Biden made the remarks as part of a blistering 25-minute speech in New Hampshire, departing from his usual campaign pitch and signaling that he will aggressively confront Trump as the president pushes unfounded accusations that the former vice president and his son had nefarious dealings in Ukraine.
Trump is "shooting holes in the Constitution," Biden said, by asking foreign powers to interfere in the 2020 election by pursuing dirt on the Bidens and then refusing to cooperate with a resulting House impeachment inquiry.
"This is a president who has decided this nation doesn't have the tools, the power, the political will" to punish bad behavior, Biden said, cataloguing a litany of Trump's actions that the former vice president said warrant impeachment.
The speech comes as Biden's campaign continues internal deliberations over the best way to handle Trump's broadsides and an impeachment inquiry that could last months — and potentially never result in the Republican-led Senate removing Trump from office even if the Democratic-led House impeaches him.
"He's not just testing us," Biden said. "He's laughing at us."
Before Biden had concluded in New Hampshire, Trump retorted via Twitter. "So pathetic," he wrote, to see Biden calling for his impeachment. The president maintained that he had done nothing wrong.
In a July 25 phone call to Ukraine's leader, Trump asked for "a favor" of investigating Biden and his son Hunter, who previously served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm that had drawn scrutiny in that country.
Without evidence and contrary to the accounts of several Ukrainian officials, Trump insists that Biden used his role as vice president to protect his son from corruption investigations when he pressed for the firing of the top Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, during President Barack Obama's second term.
Ukrainian officials, including one Shokin successor, have disputed Trump's theories, and Biden has previously noted that the Obama administration's position was supported by many other Western governments, who saw Shokin as incompetent or corrupt.
Biden on Wednesday again blasted Trump's "lies and smears and distortion" and said the president peddles them because he fears facing Biden in a general election.
"He's trying to create a campaign where truth and facts are irrelevant," Biden said, adding that the spectacle covers the president's "manifest incompetence."
"We're not going to let Donald Trump pick the Democratic nominee for president," Biden added. "I'm not going to let him get away with it. He's picked a fight with the wrong guy."
In New Hampshire, Biden noticeably did not mention the Senate or its potential role in deciding whether to remove Trump from office.
Some Biden aides note that the situation underscores the fundamental argument that the former vice president has made about Trump from the start of his campaign, a point the candidate himself made Wednesday. "When I announced my candidacy," he recalled, "I said I was running in order to restore the soul of America. That wasn't hyperbole."
But his advisers also point to the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump dominated media narratives of the Republican primary and the general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton with a barrage of attacks on his opponents that forced them to campaign on his terms.
The former vice president nodded at that reality, as well, promising that he won't let that get in his way.
"I'm not going to be distracted," he said. "None of these attacks are true, and I'm going to stay focused on your lives. That's what this election is about," he continued, saying the country "can't wait" for action on health care, education, gun regulations and the climate crisis. "The world can't wait for America once again to lead a stable, peaceful international order."
Biden got an enthusiastic reception, including from some New Hampshire voters who hadn't considered him their top choice in the nation's first presidential primary state.
"He spoke with conviction. He answered some of Trump's charges, and he got some good shots in at Trump," said Bill Hurley, a 71-year-old Democrat who named Biden his second choice behind Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
One undecided voter, Virginia Schonwald, a 63-year-old retired school librarian, said she liked that Biden was "very fact-based and that he was forceful." She said she is now considering voting for Biden in the Democratic primary.
"I don't think I was when I got here," she said. "But I think I am now. ... His speech made me more confident about him as a candidate."
Follow the reporters on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrow and https://twitter.com/HunterMw