AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Political candidates have different ways of dealing with people who confront them at campaign events. Some will ignore an uncomfortable question. Others will try to win over a detractor or gently correct them. Former Vice President Joe Biden did none of those things today at a campaign stop in Iowa. Listen to his forceful response when a voter accused Biden of corruption over his son Hunter's work in Ukraine.
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JOE BIDEN: You're a damn liar, man. That's not true, and no one has ever said that. No one has proved that.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah, (unintelligible). I see it on the TV.
BIDEN: You see it on the TV.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's all I got to do - is watch TV.
BIDEN: No, I know you do.
CHANG: Sounds like a moment that we will now talk about with NPR's Scott Detrow. He covers the presidential campaign. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So it's kind of hard to accuse Joe Biden of being too scripted on the campaign trail. What exactly happened here?
DETROW: Yeah, so this was a confrontational question at a town hall. This voter said something a lot of Republicans have and will continue to say, and that is if you set aside the debunked Trump attack that Biden was protecting his son Hunter when he pushed for an ouster of a corrupt prosecutor - that's the charge at the center of this whole impeachment inquiry - that it was improper for Hunter Biden to take a job on the board of a big company to begin with in a country where his father was heading U.S. foreign policy.
So the key line from this voter to Biden was that - you were selling access just like he is. I think that was a reference to Trump. And Biden clearly took it personally. You heard it there. He said, you're a damn liar. Then seizing on another comment the voter made about Biden being too old, Biden challenged the man to a push-up contest.
DETROW: And he made a comment about the man's physical appearance.
CHANG: OK, so it seems like Biden is not at all eager to deal with Ukraine or even questions about the impeachment process. Is that how he's been responding to this issue all along?
DETROW: He's often been bristly about it. You know, there's no other way to put it. When it comes to the broader Trump attack about Biden's official actions, Biden says that every report on this has found that it isn't true, and that's accurate. But then when reporters have asked about Hunter Biden's job on the natural gas company and here with this voter, Biden seems to take it very personally, and that kind of makes sense. He's been very protective of his family. Hunter Biden has struggled with drug addiction. Biden's other son Beau died recently of brain cancer...
DETROW: ...A few years ago. And early on, Biden said that one of the main things that he weighed when deciding to run was the fact that his family would be attacked.
CHANG: That said, this isn't the first time Joe Biden has confronted a voter, right? I mean, he does have some history.
DETROW: A pretty long history - in fact, as soon as I saw this, one of the things I was reminded of was a moment during Biden's first run for president way back in 1987.
CHANG: '87 - wow.
DETROW: At the time, there were some questions that Biden had maybe inflated his resume - his academic resume. And a voter asked about that, and here's what Biden said.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I think...
BIDEN: I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect. I went to law school on a full academic scholarship.
DETROW: Then he goes on to, like, list his transcript, in a way. And this was back when cameras were not recording every single utterance on the campaign trail, so it was notable when a upstart network called C-SPAN got that footage. And much more recently, a few weeks ago in South Carolina, I was actually there when an immigration activist challenged Biden on the Obama administration's record on deportation. And as the exchange went on, Biden seemed to get frustrated, and he cut it off by saying, well, you should vote for Trump then. And then he turned around and walked away.
CHANG: All right. So this one moment in Iowa today is getting a lot of attention, but can you just kind of tell us - how is Biden's campaign going right now?
DETROW: You know, he was actually having a really good week and, I think, continues to in a lot of ways. He's strengthening his standing as the Democratic frontrunner. California Senator Kamala Harris was a candidate who seemed set to challenge Biden among two key groups in his base - African Americans and the party's establishment. She dropped out of the race. Biden got some key endorsements from well-known Democrats like former Secretary of State John Kerry, somebody who won the Iowa caucus in 2004. And this is a candidate who's focused so heavily on restoring America's standing in the - abroad. He got a lot of fodder this week for that argument seeing President Trump arguing with the heads of key allies like France and Canada.
CHANG: So still not a bad week for him.
CHANG: That's NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.