The Note: Biden family ties set for scrutiny among Democrats

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate from Texas Southern Universitys Health & PE Center in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. PlayHeidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images
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President Donald Trump has remade the presidential race with a series of actions that have made impeachment a growing possibility -- if not an inevitability.

But where the story goes in the near term depends on Democrats, not Republicans. Former Vice President Joe Biden will face his rivals on Tuesday night in the first debate since Ukraine became the issue that it is -- spurred by Trump’s request for an investigation into Biden and the business ties of his son.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer helped the campaign get in front of any criticism with a Sunday announcement that Hunter will step down from the board of a Chinese company, and that, if his father is elected, “Hunter will agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign owned companies.”

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate from Texas Southern Universitys Health & PE Center in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. Heidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images
Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate from Texas Southern University's Health & PE Center in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019.

Yet acknowledging the potential conflicts if Biden becomes president may actually legitimize scrutiny of the work Hunter did while his father was vice president. The false and misleading claims by Trump don’t need to be at issue for Democrats to question whether Biden is the right candidate to go up against him.

No Democrat wants to do Trump’s bidding when it comes to attacking Biden. There is documented risk for any candidate who goes directly after the former vice president on stage, particularly with a Trump-designed talking point.

On Sunday, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg repeatedly declined to attack Biden: "I don't think this is a time to allow the president to change the subject," he told reporters in Ohio.

There’s a difference, however, between defending Biden against Trump and defending the work the Biden family has done. Most of those on stage Tuesday will do the former, but how many will do the latter?

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Not only does Sen. Bernie Sanders say he is well enough to attend the Democratic primary debate this week, he already seems to be forecasting a new strategy.

Sanders told ABC News News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, "There are differences between Elizabeth [Warren] and myself. ... Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."

PHOTO: Sen. Bernie Sanders on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Oct. 13, 2019. ABC News
Sen. Bernie Sanders on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Oct. 13, 2019.

To date, Sanders has been extremely hesitant to say anything negative or even draw any contrasts with Warren. Instead, when asked about the Massachusetts senator in the past, Sanders would typically praise her work and reminisce about their decades-long friendship.

But Warren has been steadily rising in popularity in early state polling, putting Sanders on the spot to defend his positions and take her on.

"I am, I believe, the only candidate who's going to say to the ruling class of this country, the corporate elite: ‘Enough, enough with your greed and with your corruption,’ Sanders said during the interview this weekend. He added, while drawing distinctions, that he sees himself as a part of a movement.

“As president of the United States, obviously one of my jobs is commander in chief. But I will also be ‘organizer in chief,’” he went on.

A full-throated offensive against his closest ally in the race would be extremely risky. The senator’s words this weekend were very far from that. Still, the fact that Sanders was willing to go there — even just a little bit — demonstrated the mounting pressure on his campaign as voting inches closer and set the stage for a tougher debate Tuesday.

The TIP with Sasha Pezenik

It'll be his first time taking the Democratic debate stage and -- his campaign says -- his first time debating, ever.

Billionaire Tom Steyer has built his 2020 brand on being the populist interloper, "pushing power down to the people." He’s blanketed the airways with ads amid rivals' scoffing that he's buying his way onto the debate stage.

Come Tuesday, Steyer will go toe-to-toe at that podium with rivals who have years of debate experience under their belts -- including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been especially critical of Steyer’s hefty ad buys and whose debate prowess won her a scholarship to college.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer speaks during the Power of our Pride Town Hall, Oct. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles.

Steyer has been prepping since August when his team expected to qualify for September. They recently rented out a San Francisco theater for a mock debate, with eight friends and staffers playing some of the other candidates. His campaign said he'll focus on his message, but if anyone comes at him, they said, "he welcomes attacks." And -- in true Scottish warrior spirit -- he will be wearing his signature tartan tie.

ONE MORE THING

Congress is set to continue closed-door depositions this week regarding the growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, and now Fiona Hill, a former top national security adviser on Russia who left the administration just before the president's July phone call with the president of Ukraine, plans to meet with lawmakers on Monday.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Monday morning’s episode features ABC News Senior Foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, who checks in from Syria as the U.S. pulls back its forces amid an offensive by Turkish-backed militias. Then, ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks tells us how Sen. Bernie Sanders is looking to differentiate himself from Sen. Elizabeth Warren ahead of this week’s debate. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Fiona Hill, a former top national security adviser on Russia, is expected to appear before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a closed meeting.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D -Colo., hosts a meet-and-greet event with Cerro Gordo County caucus goers in Mason City, Iowa. at 9 a.m.
  • Former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., attends a health services event in Greenland, New Hampshire, at noon. He then participates in a local Democrats monthly meeting in Bedford, New Hampshire, at 6:30 p.m. He later attends a town hall at Brentwood, New Hampshire, at 7:30 p.m.
  • The Democratic National Convention and Tom Perez host several events throughout Ohio ahead of the fourth Democratic presidential primary debate on Tuesday.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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