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Sheldon Whitehouse says age issue is something Biden will "have to deal with" on campaign trail

6/18: The Takeout: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
6/18: The Takeout: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse 45:30
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The matter of President Biden's age is something he will "have to deal with" on the campaign trail, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said on "The Takeout" this week. 

Whitehouse, in an interview with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett, said he has "very little" doubt that Mr. Biden will be the Democratic nominee in 2024. "There's not even a real alternative on the horizon for him," Whitehouse said. But Garrett pressed him on why he thinks consistent polling data shows at least 40% of Democrats don't want him to run again. 

"Well, I think we'd certainly — I think everybody would certainly like a younger Joe Biden," Whitehouse said. "I think the people are concerned about an 80-year-old president. And I think that's an issue that President Biden is going to have to deal with on the campaign ... can't go away."

"And I think so far, he's done a good job of dealing with it by saying, you know, being able to do 50 pushups is not necessarily what makes you a good president," Whitehouse continued. "Having the wisdom and judgment and the patience and prudence and the knowledge of how the system works to deliver for the American people, to produce the infrastructure bill, to produce the exit from COVID, to put the first major piece of climate legislation forward, to watch construction — manufacturing construction, factory building, going through the roof in America right now, that's a pretty good story to tell, that he's a actually wise and able person to lead us." 

Hunter Biden investigation probably "fairly serious"

There's another matter Republicans are sure to continue to bring up during Mr. Biden's 2024 reelection bid — that of his son, Hunter Biden. The Trump-appointed Delaware U.S. attorney, David Weiss, has been overseeing a federal investigation into the president's son since at least 2019, examining possible crimes related to Hunter Biden's taxes and to making a false statement when purchasing a gun, sources familiar with the investigation previously told CBS News. Republicans on Capitol Hill have also been trying to probe Hunter Biden's business dealings. 

"I think it probably is fairly serious, which doesn't mean that he doesn't emerge from it, you know, without charges at the end of the day, but it's not a frivolous thing," Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, said of the federal investigation into Hunter Biden. 

Garrett asked Whitehouse if he thinks the investigation into Hunter Biden is politically damaging to Democrats. 

"I don't," Whitehouse said. "I think Joe Biden has established himself in the public mind in a very solid way over many, many, many, many years of service. A family member with an acknowledged drug and drinking problem who went off the rails during episodes of that problem is a very familiar situation for many, many American families. And I don't think that whatever the problems are that Hunter Biden has ultimately proved to have had, will do much to disturb the reputation and the brand of Joe Biden. At worst, he's the guy who loves a troubled son who has been through a bad patch and has now recovered." 

Whitehouse also commented on Republicans' pursuit of an FBI document that they say details an alleged bribery scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Whitehouse's Republican colleague, delivered a speech on the Senate floor about the document this week. Whitehouse said he hasn't viewed the document in question. 

"If you look at the pattern of Republican behavior towards Democratic presidents, it is always to throw accusations of misconduct and criminality at them that over time evaporate," Whitehouse said. "But it becomes the theme of the day and it allows them to rally their base. And at this point, there is literally zero public evidence to back up any of that."

"Wait for real evidence," Whitehouse said he would tell voters. "Eventually, these decisions, particularly if they have any criminal aspect to them, need to be made on the basis of real evidence, not third-party surmise based on a statement from somebody else that may or may not be true, by somebody who may or may not be credible, that's now been reported in a form that has never been subject to scrutiny and is now being used by partisan political figures."

"Very tough" indictment for Trump to weather

But of course, it's another federal investigation that has dominated the headlines lately — the indictment and arraignment of former President Donald Trump, in the first-ever criminal prosecution of a former president. Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing the prosecution's case, which alleges willful retention of classified documents and obstruction of justice, among other charges. 

Whitehouse said he thinks it will be a "very, very tough indictment to weather" for the former president because it's "so full of factual information that is backed up by photographic proof, that is backed up by surveillance camera footage, that is backed up notes of Trump's own lawyers from the room." 

"Jack Smith obviously has chosen to go the speaking indictment route and tell a story," Whitehouse said. "My guess is that if he's a smart prosecutor, which he is, he's got a lot more good evidence in his holster that he's ready to deploy."

Dianne Feinstein's "physical condition is not good. And yet, she soldiers up..."

Back on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California continues to face questions about whether she is able to execute her role as senator, after her return from a months-long absence over health concerns. Whitehouse said the entire thing is "really difficult."

"You know, she's a perfectionist about herself," Whitehouse said. "She's one of the most talented women ever to serve, one of the most talented people ever to serve, and her physical condition is not good. And yet, she soldiers up and she does the one thing that protects our Senate Judiciary majority so that we can continue doing our work, and that is to show up to not resign, to be present, to vote, and to do her job. I admire that." 

Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
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