WASHINGTON — President Biden faces backlash from some members of his own party for his mishandling of sensitive documents as his allies express growing concern that the case could hamper the momentum of the Democrats after the midterm elections.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said it was “scandalous” that secret documents had been found at Mr Biden’s home. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan called the crisis “embarrassing.” Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said the president should have “a lot of regrets.”
The documents affair has put Mr. Biden in an uncomfortable position after starting the new year with plans to take a sort of victory lap, crossing the country to celebrate his administration’s legislative achievements.
Now Republicans are ready to make the documents affair an issue in the 2024 campaign and members of Mr Biden’s own party are openly criticizing him.
Justice Department investigators found more than half a dozen documents, some of them classified, at Mr. Biden’s residence in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday – the latest in a series of discoveries that has already led to a special advocate investigation.
The case drew uncomfortable parallels to the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive documents, even though there are significant differences between the two.
The White House tried to point out that Mr. Biden cooperated with authorities, even inviting them to search his home, while Mr. Trump defied efforts to recover documents even after being subpoenaed, prompting a judge to issue a search warrant.
Understanding the Biden Papers Deal
The discovery of classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president has sparked a Justice Department investigation.
Some of Mr. Biden’s allies in Congress have rushed to defend him. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, advised Democrats to point out that unlike Mr. Trump, who abstained for more than a year, Mr. Biden and his lawyers are taking the matter to heart. serious.
Many prominent party members bought into the message.
“President Biden’s attorneys did the right thing by immediately contacting the records and turning them over, as well as to the Department of Justice,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, said earlier this month. .
Still, the Democrats’ criticisms are stark.
Mr Biden’s allies and political analysts said the discovery last week of a “small number” of documents with classified marks at the home of Vice President Mike Pence could blunt Republican efforts to attack the White House for poor document management.
“There are more parallels with Pence and President Biden, since both voluntarily turned in the logs,” said former Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois. “Donald Trump is in a whole different category. Not cooperative. Combative. Impenitent.”
But she encouraged the Biden administration to be proactively transparent, calling that approach particularly urgent if the president plans to announce a re-election campaign.
“Right now, to announce he’s running for re-election, you know, there’s a cloud over that right now, because of this situation,” she said. “To keep the news flowing just isn’t helpful.”
How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staffers can vote, they are not allowed to support or campaign for political candidates or causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or donating money or raising funds for any political candidate or electoral cause.
Polls suggest that Americans see Mr Biden’s handling of documents as a serious problem, but it hasn’t had a dramatic impact on his base’s support. Only about 18% of Americans consider Mr. Biden to be beyond reproach, while 81% believe he has done at least something unethical, according to a CNN poll released Wednesday. But the poll found the revelations had little impact on Mr Biden’s approval rating of 45% among voters, down from 46% in December.
Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization, said Pence’s documents could convince voters that the problem is less of a crisis and more of a common mistake, “especially for very senior officials who leave during hectic days at the end of the administration.
Still, Rep. Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, said the documents issue raises bigger questions about protecting classified information.
“Considering that a current president of high integrity and a former president of no integrity have both found themselves in possession of classified documents in their personal residences,” he said, “it is clear that we must put in place stricter controls to avoid compromising our national secrets and our security. .”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer and House Democratic leadership, echoed his national security concerns, though she drew a distinction between Mr. Trump’s conduct and that of Mr. Biden. “That doesn’t make it any less serious,” she said. “How come classified documents can just be floating there?”
Rep. Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, this week aimed some of the harshest criticism at Mr. Biden, who he said “apparently did what Trump did by keeping classified documents.”
His response angered some Democrats on the Hill, who said they wanted to maintain a consistent message that special prosecutors should be able to conduct their investigations uninfluenced by politics.
Mr. Himes then posted a tweet delving more into the differences between the two cases – the aspect that many Democrats want to emphasize.
Biden’s allies say the controversy over the documents makes it even more important for the president to travel the country and focus on issues that matter to Americans, such as the economy and especially progress on of inflation.
“President Biden is steadfastly focused on delivering even more results for middle-class families by building on the progress he’s made in fighting inflation,” said the gatekeeper. White House floor, Andrew Bates. He said the discovery of documents would not affect any decision regarding the 2024 presidential election.
Others were also skeptical that the issue would be deeply meaningful to swing voters, who will be key in determining the outcome of the 2024 election.
“They’ll be thinking about the economy,” said former Rep. Steve Israel of New York, another former chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm. “They will wonder if their life is back to normal after Covid. They will think about job opportunities. I don’t think they’re going to think about the issue of classified documents in anyone’s home or office a year before the election.
Mr. Biden will focus on these economic themes when he delivers a speech in Springfield, Va., on Thursday. He is expected to attack economic policies proposed by House Republicans, including a plan to institute a national sales tax. But even some allies in Virginia are worried about how the documents issue might affect the party.
“I obviously think that weakens and undermines the case that we have against the real wrongdoings of the Trump administration,” said Bryan Graham, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. “It likely highlights that there are controls and consequences that need to be put in place to help address these issues.”
But he added that ultimately voters in his community were likely more interested in hearing what Mr. Biden had to say about the economy.
Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane contributed report.