Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, paid nearly $300,000 in federal income taxes on earnings of more than $985,000 in 2019, according to returns he released Tuesday following a news report that President Trump has paid far less in recent years.
The disclosure, coming just hours before the first general election debate, highlights the contrast Biden is seeking to sharpen with Trump over their personal finances and transparency. The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and again in 2017 and that he paid no income taxes 10 of the previous 15 years, due to losses he declared.
“The American people deserve transparency from their leaders, it’s why as of today, I’ve released 22 years of my tax returns,” Biden tweeted.
Trump has not voluntarily released his tax records, breaking his own promise before his election and deviating from the practices of his predecessors. He has explained his decision not to release them by saying that he is under an IRS audit. But there is no law preventing him from releasing his taxes during such a review.
Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), also released her 2019 taxes on Tuesday. Her return showed nearly $3.3 million in total income with her husband, Douglas Emhoff, who had a lucrative law practice from which he is currently on leave. They paid more than $1.1 million in federal taxes.
The revelations about Trump’s taxes have added a new political layer to the final weeks of the presidential contest. At recent campaign stops, Biden has been seeking to demonstrate a kinship with working-class voters, while casting Trump as an elitist who is out of touch with them. He has touted his humble roots in Scranton, Pa., and lack of an Ivy League diploma in an effort to draw a distinction from the president, who was raised in a wealthy family in New York and attended the University of Pennsylvania.
Since the New York Times story was published, Biden has tried to amplify that populist pitch. Biden is selling T-shirts and buttons on his campaign website that say, “I paid more in taxes than Donald Trump.” And he unveiled a “Trump tax calculator” online Monday.
“Do you pay more or less in federal income taxes than our ‘billionaire’ President? Use this calculator to find out,” it says.
Despite his wealth, Trump has long portrayed himself as a champion of White, working-class voters, and he benefited in 2016 when many of them abandoned the Democratic Party to side with him. The dueling strategies by the president and his challenger are being tested in Rust Belt battleground states that could determine the outcome of the election. Polls show Biden narrowly ahead of Trump in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, all of which were key to Trump’s stunning victory four years ago.
Earlier this week, Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that the New York Times’s story “is riddled with gross inaccuracies.” But he identified only one specific issue: the amount of taxes Trump has paid to the federal government. The Times said it believed Garten was conflating federal income taxes with other taxes. Trump, asked repeatedly about the story, has not offered any specific criticisms.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh responded to Biden’s release with a statement arguing it was evidence that he was not telling the truth when he previously said he had never made more than $400,000. Touting his tax plan in Michigan this month, Biden said, “No one making under $400,000, which is more money than I’ve ever made, is going to have to pay more taxes.”
Indeed, the tax returns Biden released before Tuesday showed annual earnings eclipsing $400,000.
The former vice president, who has long fashioned himself as “Middle Class Joe” and touted his frequent status as the poorest member of the Senate when he was in Congress, experienced a dramatic increase in earnings after leaving public office in early 2017. Previously disclosed records show his family income was more than $15 million in 2017 and 2018. The money came mostly from book contracts and speaking fees.
After leaving office, Biden commanded fees as high $200,000 per speech. He no longer gave paid speeches after entering the presidential race in April 2019, a move coinciding with his drop in income from the two years leading up to his campaign.
In all three years, the Bidens utilized “S Corporations,” vehicles that can help reduce certain tax liabilities.
The Bidens paid five and seven-figure tax bills for 2016 and 2017, respectively, the years for which Trump, according to the Times report, paid $750 each.
Trump and Biden were slated to debate for the first time in Cleveland on Tuesday night. Polls in Ohio, another important bellwether that Trump won, also show a competitive race.
Ahead of their showdown, Biden aides touted the tax release and previewed a potential line of attack.
“This is a historic level of transparency meant to give the American people faith, once again, that their leaders will look out for them, not their own bottom line,” Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters on a conference call.
Matt Viser contributed to this report.