DES MOINES – Mike Pence said that President Biden took a “welcome step” by acknowledging 4-year old Navy Roberts as his seventh grandchild — but that “it shouldn’t have taken that long.”
“Look, I became a grandfather three times over in the last two years,” Pence said, after his speech at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln Dinner on Friday. “For all the difficulties in their family, I can’t help but feel that the President has finally been willing to come to terms and be public with acknowledging all of his grandchildren.”
Biden had been more than reluctant to talk about Hunter Biden’s daughter with Lunden Roberts, an Arkansas woman who had sued for child support after a DNA test proved that the president’s wayward son was Navy’s father. In a statement released to People magazine on Friday, Biden called the situation “a family matter” that was being resolved, adding that he and First Lady Jill Biden “only want what is best for all of our grandchildren, including Navy.”
That was new; Biden had refused to answer questions about the topic before. Four years ago, when Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Biden about the paternity case, the future president referred to it as a “private matter” and sarcastically called the reporter “classy” for asking. And as president, when the subject of his extended family came up, Biden would say he had six grandchildren, referring only to the two children of his late son, Beau, and the four children Hunter had with his ex-wife Kathleen Buhle and current wife Melissa Cohen.
Setting aside the personal and legal issues at play, the president’s approach to Hunter’s daughter became politically difficult during a child support dispute that was litigated in Arkansas last month. While Roberts and the younger Biden settled it out of court, the conflict drove more press attention to a story that had been covered extensively in conservative media but gingerly by mainstream outlets. The new coverage included a front page New York Times story with the detail that “several of the president’s allies fear that the case could damage his re-election prospects.”
Republican candidates had tread carefully around the topic, but that changed after the Times story, which preceded a brutal op-ed from the paper’s longtime columnist Maureen Dowd. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hit back at some criticism from the Biden administration with a shot at the president for failing to “visit his granddaughter.” At the Iowa GOP Dinner, two candidates — former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — joked about Biden’s refusal to say he had a seventh grandchild.
“I know how many grandchildren I have,” said Hutchinson. “I have seven.” Haley made the story part of a joke about her suggestion that politicians over age 75 should be made to take mental acuity tests – with questions like “how many grandchildren do you have?”
The People magazine story cited a source who framed Biden’s extended refusal to engage with his granddaughter as partially driven by not wanting to interfere in her parents’ extended court case — one that has now been resolved.
Pence sat down with Semafor on Friday to talk through a number of issues playing out in the GOP primary. Look for the rest of his answers in Monday’s Principals.