At a Moment of National Trauma, Biden Feels Compelled to Stay on the Sidelines – The New York Times

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While presidents typically play a pastoral role after court cases that tear at the national fabric, the incumbent was effectively conflicted out.

If this were any other extraordinary case of historic import, any other case likely to tear at the national fabric, the president of the United States might have stepped before the cameras to try to calm his fellow citizens and encourage faith in the American system of justice.

But this was no ordinary extraordinary case. And President Biden was no disinterested bystander. As America sought to absorb the first criminal conviction of one of its presidents, the incumbent was effectively conflicted out of the matter because he is running against the newly adjudicated felon.

Mr. Biden’s absence from view in the hours after former President Donald J. Trump was found guilty of 34 felonies testified to the awkward position confronting the current occupant of the White House when it comes to holding his predecessor accountable. If Mr. Biden spoke out directly, he would doubtlessly feed into Mr. Trump’s false narrative that the prosecution was nothing more than a political hit job to take out his challenger. But some Democrats were nonetheless frustrated by the president’s public silence.

Mr. Biden’s damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t conundrum meant that his political risks essentially outweighed his presidential imperatives. While many of his predecessors have played a pastoral role at other moments when the justice system was tested during incendiary cases — think Rodney King, Michael Brown or George Floyd — Mr. Biden concluded that speaking out would make things worse, not better.

“I may be alone in this, but I think he should address the convictions with some sobriety,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama when Mr. Biden was vice president. “It was a sad and stunning day for our country, but we’re a country of laws, not men. That is a bedrock principle of our Constitution and our democracy, and even presidents are subject to it.”

Mr. Biden has given voice to such principles before, but in this case he finds himself trying to navigate a treacherous political thicket unlike that encountered by any of the men who have held the office before him. In some ways, from Mr. Biden’s point of view, it is the worst of both worlds, a situation presenting more threat than opportunity.

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