Former Vice President Joe Biden in a still from a...

Former Vice President Joe Biden in a still from a campaign video announcing his presidential bid. Credit: AFP / Joe Biden 2020 Presidential Campaign

Hills and valleys

Joe Biden's entry into the 2020 race started out smoothly enough, as it should have, given the time and deliberation the veteran of 50 years in politics put in to get ready for it. The announcement video looked past the 19 other Democratic contenders for a frontal attack on Donald Trump and the legacy of Charlottesville.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden declared. “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

Endorsements rolled in quickly from present and former members of Congress. There was a statement of praise, though not an endorsement, from former President Barack Obama for his vice president of eight years.

Biden also scored a coup for his campaign staff, naming Symone Sanders — Bernie Sanders' press secretary in 2016 and one of the best known African-American Democratic strategists — as a senior adviser. (Politico noted she gave $250 to Pete Buttigieg last month.)

But later Thursday, there was evidence that Biden hasn't been fully successful in his efforts of recent months to reconcile parts of his past record with today's Democratic sensibilities. Anita Hill told The New York Times that Biden called her earlier this month to express regret over "what she endured" when Biden chaired a 1991 Senate hearing on her sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Hill said the conversation left her deeply unsatisfied — that Biden hasn't addressed the harm he caused her and other women who suffered sexual harassment and gender violence a quarter-century before the #MeToo movement. “He needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw," she said.

That was Biden's Day One. While Trump and his political team worry Biden would be a tough general-election opponent in 2020, they're crossing their fingers that he may not survive the Democratic primaries.

Trump's hello to Joe

The president greeted Biden's candidacy with a single tweet that economically insulted the latest Democratic entry plus the primary rivals running to his left:

"Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty - you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!"

Get your scorecard here

Need a guide to the field of presidential candidates? Trying to remember their faces? Click here for's guide by Edward B. Colby, complete with photos, bios and quotes.

Trump: Didn't start the 'fire'

Don McGahn testified under oath. Donald Trump logged onto Twitter. Those are but two of the factors to consider in weighing who is telling the truth.

The president on Thursday tweeted, "I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so." That's at odds with Mueller's account of McGahn's testimony. “McGahn recalled the president telling him 'Mueller has to go' and 'call me back when you do it,’” the report says. McGahn refused.

Mueller’s investigators considered whether McGahn may have misinterpreted Trump’s directive, but concluded he had not. When news surfaced of the thwarted firing, McGahn testified that Trump wanted him to falsely deny it ever happened. McGahn refused.

Trump's three-tweet attack on the Mueller report Thursday did not elaborate on why he's trying to block McGahn from testifying before Congress. For more, see Laura Figueroa Hernandez's story for Newsday.

New kid on the blocked

Not only is the stonewall getting higher, it's getting wider. The White House, already ignoring House Democratic subpoenas of officials for investigations directly about Trump, said it won't let Trump adviser Stephen Miller undergo questioning by the oversight committee about immigration policies.

House committees also wants to delve into the recent Miller-backed purge of top officials at the Department of Homeland Security. "We are also concerned that the President may have removed DHS officials because they refused his demands to violate federal immigration law and judicial orders," three of the chairmen wrote.

Ransom deal with Rocket Man?

When North Korea in 2017 said the U.S. could take comatose prisoner Otto Warmbier home, the U.S. diplomat on the medical evacuation mission was handed a $2 million medical bill and pressured to sign a pledge to pay it. He did, with Trump's approval, The Washington Post reported.

Trump, as recently as Sept. 30, asserted that his administration paid "nothing" to get American "hostages" out of North Korea. The Post said it could not determine whether the bill was ever paid to Kim Jong Un's regime.

Warmbier, a college student, fell into a coma after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for pulling down a propaganda sign at a Pyongyang hotel. He died six days after his return.

What else is happening:

  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a longtime Biden booster, has indicated to party donors that he's looking to open his formidable fundraising network to the former vice president, CNBC reported.
  • The Trump administration is preparing to roll back protections for transgender patients while empowering health care workers to refuse care based on religious objections, according to Politico.
  • Serenity? Not now. Americans are reporting their highest stress levels in a decade and are among the most stressed people in the world, according to a worldwide Gallup survey. There are indicators that political polarization may be a factor, but that's not a definitive conclusion, Gallup's Julie May told The New York Times.
  • The Pentagon's in-house watchdog cleared acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan of allegations he violated ethics rules by improperly favoring his former employer, Boeing. That makes it easier for Trump to consider nominating him for Senate confirmation to the post.
  • Trump has ordered his administration to prepare a push for new arms-control agreements with Russia and China, The Washington Post reported. He's growing more alarmed at the costs of keeping up with a 21st-century nuclear arms race, according to administration officials.