ROCHESTER, N.H. — Former vice president Joe Biden for the first time Wednesday called for Donald Trump to be impeached, delivering his fiercest indictment yet of a president he said has “already convicted himself” by asking foreign governments to meddle in next year’s election and who has been spreading “lies” about him.
“Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed his nation, and committed impeachable acts,” Biden said in the first of two appearances in the state after weeks of more reserved reaction to the Ukraine scandal. “To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached.”
Biden described Trump as a “bully” of “manifest incompetence” who wanted foreign assistance to pick the Democratic nominee. And Biden said Trump didn’t want it to be him.
“He’s afraid about just how badly I will beat him next November,” Biden said in his first visit to the key primary state since a whistle-blower complaint led to a formal House impeachment inquiry. “He’s picked a fight with the wrong guy.”
Biden spoke to small crowds in town hall events here and later in Manchester. But the real audience appeared broader, as the first speech was carried nationwide on television. He detailed Trump’s requests to three governments — Russia, Ukraine, and China — to either investigate political opponents or leak unfavorable information.
“We all laughed when he said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it,” Biden said, referring to a speech Trump gave in Iowa four years ago about the loyalty of his political base. “It’s no joke! He’s shooting holes in the Constitution, and we cannot let him get away with it.”
At that point, the audience in a modest room inside a Rochester inn gave him a standing ovation. After the event, voters said they were glad Biden took such aggressive swipes at Trump.
“I think there is some hope,” said Michael King, 55, of Dover, N.H. “I was enthused. I’m hoping that he wins. I think he is the best man.”
John Harter, 69, of Somersworth, said Democrats “have to get in there” and attack Trump head on to defeat him.
Trump also appeared to have watched the speech, tweeting around the same time that Biden was “so pathetic” in calling for impeachment and that “Joe’s Failing Campaign gave him no other choice!” Later, speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said, “My guess is he’s no longer the front runner. But look, I feel badly for him.”
The blistering remarks from Biden come at a difficult time in his campaign. The polling lead over the 2020 Democratic field that he held in all early primary states and nationwide since he entered the contest has slipped in recent weeks, putting him behind Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
The most recent New Hampshire poll, conducted at the end of September by St. Anselm College, showed Warren with a two-point lead over Biden.
His fund-raising has also slipped in the third quarter, with his total of $15.2 million well behind Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who each raised about $25 million.
But particularly concerning to Biden’s campaign is how he has been caught up as a central player in the telephone call Trump had with the new Ukrainian president in July. On that call, Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while the elder Biden was vice president.
Democrats have been urging Biden to respond more forcefully to the charges. And Wednesday, he did.
“He is targeting me and my family with lies and distortions and smears, and that is all that they are because he thinks it will undermine my campaign for the presidency,” Biden said.
“There is no truth in his charges and attacks against me. None. Zero,” he said. “Every independent news organization that has reviewed his charges at length found them to be a flat out lie. And Trump knows it.”
In calling for Trump to be impeached, Biden joins other Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail — including Warren and Sanders — who have called on the House to vote for impeachment in the wake of the Ukraine controversy. Until Wednesday, Biden had said that the House should begin an impeachment inquiry — which it did — if Trump didn’t cooperate with their investigations.
Trump’s phone call is the focus of a renewed push by House Democrats to impeach him, an effort that the president is fighting in an escalating constitutional crisis. The endless headlines and guests on cable news repeating Biden’s name as part of the scandal have called into question the central tenet of the former vice president’s campaign — that he is the Democrat most able to defeat Trump.
Biden hit that point as he spoke at each event for about 40 minutes. He took no questions even though both were billed as town halls.
“I know what it takes to get it done,” Biden said. “We have to beat him like a drum.”
Although he did not mention her by name, Biden took a swipe at Warren in both speeches.
“Yes it takes plans,” he said in Rochester, apparently referring to the long list of policy proposals that have become a hallmark of her campaign. “But that is not enough. It takes the proven ability to get it done.”
In Manchester, Biden touched briefly on his policies on gun control, education, and the environment, but spent the bulk of his time on Trump. At one point, he was interrupted by protesters urging him to do more on climate change. Biden said as president he would re-join the 2016 Paris Agreement.
The event took place on Wednesday evening at a ski lodge. As people waited in line on the chilly, overcast day, they munched apple cider doughnuts and sipped hot cider provided by the campaign.
Many attendees at the Thursday evening event said they are undecided and came to see Biden in person as they consider multiple candidates. Several said that although they hate Trump and want him expelled from office, they think the impeachment inquiry is a distraction that diverts Washington lawmakers away from the issues they care about most, like health care, climate change, and the opioid crisis.
“Vote him out. It’ll be quicker and less headache,” Curtis Chase, 52, of Auburn, said of Trump.
Still, many voters said what they care about most is beating Trump in the general election and appreciated how direct Biden was in his attacks on Wednesday.
“I don’t want him to stoop to Trump’s level, but he’s got to come back [at him] somehow,” said Jim Rye, 76, of Merrimack.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp Laura Krantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.