WASHINGTON -- Joe Biden has a warning for his Democratic rivals as they prepare for the fourth televised debate next week: Stay away from the issue of Ukraine and Hunter Biden.
The 12 candidates participating in Tuesday's debate in Westerville, Ohio, are honing their answers to questions about the U.S. House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, which centers on the president's request to the leader of Ukraine to investigate unfounded allegations about Biden and his son's work there.
But the front-runner's campaign suggests they shouldn't stray into shots about the Biden family.
An aide to Biden said that any candidate who "calls themselves a 'Democrat'" and repeats what the aide said were "discredited lies" about Biden and his son "would be making a profound statement about themselves."
As Trump has escalated his attacks against Joe and Hunter Biden, Biden's Democratic rivals have been walking a tightrope. All of them are campaigning against Trump and most have called for his impeachment. Yet getting the chance to challenge the incumbent president requires first winning the nomination. So many of the candidates have criticized Biden for "allowing" Hunter Biden to serve on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company, while his father was vice president, saying any appearance of a conflict of interest is problematic.
Biden has thoroughly disputed any allegations, and no evidence suggests that there was any impropriety when he worked in concert with other Obama administration officials and European allies to recommend that Ukraine's national prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, be fired.
Aides to some of the other candidates in the debate say they do not expect their candidates to shy away from repeating their public criticisms.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who sparred with Biden in the first debate over his past positions on busing, said she would "probably not" let a child of her vice president sit on the board of a foreign energy company.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey told CNN last month, "I just don't think children of vice presidents, presidents during the administration should be out there doing that."
After a labor forum in Los Angeles last week, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke said, "I would not allow a family member, anyone in my Cabinet to have a family member, to work in a position like that."