OTTUMWA — Protests are part of presidential campaigns. So, when a man named Dustin stood up and began talking in the middle of former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech, it wasn’t a complete shock.

Wearing a “Death by Medicine” t-shirt, he said the country had to address the number of medical errors and the harm they caused. Rather than try to silence him, Biden handed over the microphone.

When the point was made, Biden took it back. “He’s absolutely right,” he said. “Dustin makes a good point and I understand your frustration.”

Biden spoke for a moment about the need for hospitals to take basic steps, like making sure people sanitize their hands before touching patients. Better procedures need to be implemented to prevent simple mistakes that harm people. Then, after addressing the protester’s concerns, he turned back to his focus on the need to reject President Donald Trump’s style of attacking those who disagree.

“We’ve led the world not just by our power, but by the power of our ideals,” Biden said. “We have to unite this country. It will be hard. It will be hard. But we have to do it.”

The need to unite a deeply divided populace was Biden’s focus Saturday during the campaign stop at Hotel Ottumwa. But he began with an issue that is not going away soon: this week’s impeachment of Trump. A trial in the Senate is the next step, and it promises to be as divisive as the debate that led up to the House vote.

Biden agreed with the vote to impeach Trump, but said there is a big difference between a necessary but distasteful vote and a victory.

“The fact is thee’s nothing to celebrate about it. It’s a sad moment,” he said.

Biden served in the Senate during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. Though he has no role in the upcoming trial, he is closely linked to the events that led to it. An effort by the administration to get Ukranian officials to investigate a company that included Biden’s son on its board forms the basis for one of the articles of impeachment.

Biden said Trump’s accusations against him and his son give him every reason to be bitter, but that it’s more important that he set personal feelings aside and focus on other goals.

“We have to unify America. My opponents say of me, ‘Joe’s living in the past. You can’t unify the country,’” he said. “This is not about me. It’s not about my family. It’s about our country. You have to reach out. I refuse to accept the proposition that we’re permanently at war with each other.”

Rep. Mary Gaskill introduced Biden, and former Gov. Tom Vilsack closed the rally with his own comments. Both spoke of Biden reaching out after they lost loved ones. And Vilsack used a very recent example to make his point.

“If Donald Trump had ben standing here and Dustin had done what he did, what do you think would have happened?” he asked.

— Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner


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