It’s Thursday, November 21. In today’s newsletter: What Joe Biden can’t bring himself to say. Plus, what about the moderate Republicans?

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« SPECIAL PREVIEW »

(Mark Peckmezian)

Joe Biden’s seemingly never-ending series of verbal stumbles—most recently on display at Wednesday night’s Democratic debate—have led to breathless punditry that the 77-year-old is losing it.

But what if there’s another reason, one that he can’t bring himself to acknowledge?

My colleague John Hendrickson, one of our senior editors for politics, sat down with Biden earlier this year for one of the very few direct interviews he’s given during the 2020 campaign.

Maybe you’ve heard Biden talk about his boyhood stutter. A non-stutterer might not notice when he appears to get caught on words as an adult, because he usually maneuvers out of those moments quickly and expertly. But on other occasions, like that night in Detroit, Biden’s lingering stutter is hard to miss. He stutters—­if slightly—on several sounds as we sit across from each other in his office.

Before addressing the debate specifically, I mention what I’ve just heard. “I want to ask you, as, you know, a … stutterer to, uh, to a … stutterer. When you were … talking a couple minutes ago, it, it seemed to … my ear, my eye … did you have … trouble on s? Or on … m?”

Biden looks down. He pivots to the distant past, telling me that the letter s was hard when he was a kid. “But, you know, I haven’t stuttered in so long that it’s hhhhard for me to remember the specific—” He pauses. “What I do remember is the feeling.

Read the full story, a special preview from the January/February 2020 issue of The Atlantic.

Saahil Desai

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« TODAY IN POLITICS »

Republican Congressman Will Hurd (Andrew Harnik / AP)

1. On the significant moments and figures from the impeachment hearings:

After 12 witnesses packed into five days and many, many, many hours of testimony, the public impeachment hearings wrapped up this week with testimonies from Fiona Hill and David Holmes.

+ Hill, the former top expert for Ukraine and Russia on the National Security Council, displayed no patience for the GOP strategy, accusing Republicans of peddling a “false narrative” that amounted to Russian propaganda, Russell Berman writes.

Hill’s testimony amounted to a remarkably direct rebuttal to House Republicans who have stood resolutely in support of Trump during the impeachment inquiry.

+ Will Hurd, who will be retiring from Congress and who has seemed more open-minded to the impeachment inquiry than most House Republicans, didn’t seem to be sold on the testimonies.

If Democrats can’t persuade a moderate Republican like him to vote to impeach President Trump, they’re unlikely to win over any Republicans at all.

+ President Trump’s go-to impeachment defense has been attacking the civil servants who testify—but that bellicosity could be politically risky for him in 2020, Ron Brownstein writes.

Few in either party dispute that Trump could mobilize enough voters who respond to these attacks on elites—and his related condemnation of cultural and racial change—to squeeze out an Electoral College victory in 2020. But compared with earlier conservative populists, he’s operating in an environment with a greater potential for backlash against attacks on expertise.

2. On what we’re talking about when we talking about that aid to Ukraine:

It’s become central to the impeachment proceedings, but the specific line of inquiry around withheld military aid money has obscured a deeper foreign-policy question, Uri Friedman writes.

For a policy that’s purportedly a pillar of the decades-old international order, military aid to Ukraine is pretty new.

3. On standout moments from the latest round of Democratic debates:

+ Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris warned their rivals not to take black voters for granted.

Biden’s claim to black support—while backed up in the polls at the moment—seemed to come out of an earlier era, when the “first black president” was not Barack Obama but Bill Clinton, and when white politicians relied on endorsements over authentic experience to prove their connection to the black community.

+ Pete Buttigieg is now a 2020 Democratic frontrunner—what was evident in recent polls also became evident on the debate stage. Elaine Godfrey watched the debate with Mayor Pete diehards in D.C. Here’s what she saw in their fandom.

Indeed, to the supporters buzzing around the second floor of the bar, which had been decorated with streamers and a cardboard cutout of the mayor, Buttigieg isn’t just experiencing a temporary bump.

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« ARGUMENT OF THE DAY »

(erin scott / reuters)

The impeachment inquiry against President Trump has thus far been hyper-focused on the administration’s dealings with Ukraine.

What about the rape allegation, and the multiple sexual-misconduct allegations against the president? Megan Garber asks.

It is nonetheless a sobering thing, to watch the hearings for the one alleged crime play out while the other alleged crimes are, effectively, ignored.

Read her full argument.

+ More from Megan: An essay on why public figures stopped apologizing (from our December 2019 magazine)

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Today’s edition of our daily newsletter of political ideas and arguments was written by Saahil Desai, and edited by Shan Wang.

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