There is a 4-year-old girl in rural Arkansas who is learning to ride a camouflage-patterned four-wheeler alongside her cousins. Some days, she wears a bow in her hair, and on other days, she threads her long blond ponytail through the back of a baseball cap. When she is old enough, she will learn to hunt, just like her mother did when she was young.
The girl is aware that her father is Hunter Biden and that her paternal grandfather is the president of the United States. She speaks about both of them often, but she has not met them. Her maternal grandfather, Rob Roberts, described her as whip-smart and funny.
“I may not be the POTUS,” Mr. Roberts said in a text message, using an acronym for the president, but he said he would do anything for his granddaughter. He said she “needs for nothing and never will.”
The story surrounding the president’s grandchild in Arkansas, who is not named in court papers, is a tale of two families, one of them powerful, one of them not. But at its core, the story is about money, corrosive politics and what it means to have the Biden birthright.
Her parents ended a yearslong court battle over child support on Thursday, agreeing that Mr. Biden, who has embarked on a second career as a painter whose pieces have been offered for as much as $500,000 each, would turn over a number of his paintings to his daughter in addition to providing a monthly support payment. The little girl will select the paintings from Mr. Biden, according to court documents.
“We worked it out amongst ourselves,” Lunden Roberts, the girl’s mother, said in an interview with The New York Times. “It was settled” in a discussion with Mr. Biden, she said.
Hunter Biden did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Ms. Roberts said she dropped a request to have the girl’s last name changed from Roberts to Biden. (Mr. Biden had fought against giving their daughter the Biden surname.) Ms. Roberts would only say that the decision to drop the request was mutual. “We both want what is best for our daughter, and that is our only focus,” she said.
Though a trial planned for mid-July has been averted, people on both sides fear that the political toxicity surrounding the case will remain. Already, it has been extensively covered in conservative media, from Breitbart to Fox News, and conservative commentators assailed the Biden family after news of the settlement.
Both Hunter Biden, the privileged and troubled son of a president, and Ms. Roberts, the daughter of a rural gun maker, have allies whose actions have made the situation more politicized. There is no evidence the White House is involved in those actions.
Clint Lancaster, Ms. Roberts’s attorney, has represented the Trump campaign. He also called Garrett Ziegler, an activist and former Trump White House aide who has cataloged and published messages from a cache of Hunter Biden’s files that appear to have come from a laptop he left at a repair shop, to serve as an expert witness in the child support case. In the other corner, allies of Democratic groups dedicated to helping the Biden family have disseminated information about Mr. Ziegler and the Roberts family, seeking to highlight their Trump ties.
And then there is President Biden.
His public image is centered around his devotion to his family — including to Hunter, his only surviving son. In strategy meetings in recent years, aides have been told that the Bidens have six, not seven, grandchildren, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
The White House did not respond to questions about the case, in keeping with how officials have answered questions about the Biden family before.
Several of the president’s allies fear that the case could damage his re-election prospects by bringing more attention to a son whom some Democrats see as a liability. Others say the far right has focused on Hunter Biden, a private citizen, but ignored any moral and ethical failings of the former president, Donald J. Trump.
“He’s under more indictments than two Super Bowl teams’ worth of players,” the author and political strategist Stuart Stevens, who left the Republican Party in 2016, said of Mr. Trump. “But that doesn’t matter: You have Hunter Biden. It’s just anger in search of an argument.”
‘People Have an Image of Me’
Lunden Roberts, 32, comes from a clan as tight-knit as the Bidens. Her father is a red-state gun manufacturer whose hunting buddies have included Donald Trump Jr., and who taught her at a young age how to hunt turkeys and alligators. She works for the family business, which sits on a winding country road dotted with pastures on the outskirts of Batesville.
The pride of her family, the 5-foot-8 Ms. Roberts graduated with honors from Southside High School in Batesville and played basketball for Arkansas State University, where a team biography said she enjoyed hunting and skeet shooting. After graduating, she moved to Washington to study forensic investigation at George Washington University. She never completed the program. Photos from that time show her attending baseball games at Nationals Park and attending Drake and Kanye West concerts.
Along the way, she met the son of a future president who was sliding into addiction and visiting Washington strip clubs.
In mid-2018, Ms. Roberts was working as a personal assistant to Mr. Biden, according to a person close to her and messages from a cache of Mr. Biden’s files. Their daughter was born later that year, but by then, Mr. Biden had stopped responding to Ms. Roberts’s messages, including one informing him of the child’s birth date. Shortly after their daughter was born in November 2018, he removed Ms. Roberts and the child from his health insurance, which led Ms. Roberts to contact Mr. Lancaster.
She filed a lawsuit in May 2019, and DNA testing that year established that Mr. Biden was the father of the child. In a motion for custody filing in December 2019, Ms. Roberts said that he had never met their child and “could not identify the child out of a photo lineup.”
Ms. Roberts said in an interview that she had grown used to the onslaught of scrutiny around the case: “I read things about myself that I have no clue about,” she said. But one thing she said she can’t stand is being called a bad mother. “People can call me whatever they want, but they can’t call me that,” she said.
Her public Instagram account tells its own story: “I hope one day when you look back you find yourself proud of who you are, where you come from, and most importantly, who raised you,” she captioned a photo of the two of them at the beach earlier this year. In another photo, shared to her account in April 2022, her daughter wore an Air Force One baseball cap and stood in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
“People have an image of me, but few get the picture,” Ms. Roberts wrote on another photo in July 2022.
Seen through one prism, the photos are a powerful public testament of love from a mother to her daughter. Seen through another, they are exploitative, certainly from the perspective of Biden allies, who fear the images — and the child — are being weaponized against the Biden family.
For her part, Ms. Roberts said she did not bring her daughter to Washington to punish the Bidens. She said she brought her to Washington because not many little girls get to say that their grandfather is the president.
“She’s very proud of who her grandfather is and who her dad is,” Ms. Roberts said. “That is something that I would never allow her to think otherwise.”
A Troubled Son
Hunter Biden, 53, is recovering from crack cocaine addiction and is the last surviving son of the president, who lost his eldest, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015. The younger Mr. Biden has five children, and has said that he fathered his fourth at a low point in his life.
“I had no recollection of our encounter,” Mr. Biden wrote in his 2021 memoir. “That’s how little connection I had with anyone. I was a mess, but a mess I’ve taken responsibility for.”
Before Thursday’s settlement, Mr. Biden had paid Ms. Roberts upward of $750,000, according to his attorneys, and had sought to reduce his $20,000-a-month child support payment on the grounds that he did not have the money. The new amount is lower than what had been originally ordered by the court, according to a person familiar with the case.
Trial or no trial, Mr. Biden will remain one of his father’s political vulnerabilities. Since his addiction spiraled out of control and his dealings with foreign governments caught the attention of conservatives, the younger Mr. Biden’s choices have become grist for memes, conservative cable news panels and Republican fund-raising. The most recent round kicked off after he struck a deal with the Justice Department to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and accept terms that would allow him to avoid prosecution on a separate gun charge.
On top of that, Mr. Biden has been the subject of multiple congressional investigations, and the contents of the laptop he left at a repair shop have been pored over and disseminated by activists, who say his private communications show criminal wrongdoing.
In the White House, matters involving Hunter are so sensitive that only the president’s most senior advisers talk to him about his son, according to people familiar with the arrangement.
Through it all, the president has been staunchly supportive. Rather than distance himself, Mr. Biden has included Hunter on official trips, traveled with him aboard Marine One, and ensured that he is on the guest list at state dinners.
“I’m very proud of my son,” the president told reporters recently.
‘Life’s Greatest Blessing’
President Biden has worked over the past half-century to make his last name synonymous with family values and loyalty. The strength of his political persona, which emphasizes decency, family and duty, was enough to defeat Mr. Trump the first time around, and he would need to keep it intact if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024.
On a proclamation issued on Father’s Day, Mr. Biden said that his father had “taught me that, above all, family is the beginning, middle and end — a lesson I have passed down to my children and grandchildren.” He added that “family is life’s greatest blessing and responsibility.”
Since they entered the White House, President Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, have centered their family lives around their grandchildren, and have given them the benefits that come with living in close contact with the White House.
Naomi Biden, 29, is Hunter’s eldest child, from his first marriage, to Kathleen Buhle, which ended in 2017. Ms. Biden was married on the South Lawn of the White House last year in a Ralph Lauren dress that she called the product of her “American(a) dreams.” She and her sisters have taken trips around the world with the president and first lady. Hunter married Melissa Cohen in 2019. His youngest child, who is named for Beau and was born in 2020, is photographed frequently with his grandparents.
In April, President Biden told a group of children that he had “six grandchildren. And I’m crazy about them. And I speak to them every single day. Not a joke.”
But the president has not yet met or publicly mentioned his other grandchild. His White House has not answered questions about whether he will publicly acknowledge her now that the child support case is settled.
Still, Mr. Stevens, the political strategist, said that Mr. Biden’s support of his son, even against an onslaught of Republican criticism and ugly scandals, has only emphasized his unconditional love for his family.
“The net positive of this has gone to Biden, by the way,” Mr. Stevens said of the president. “He stuck by him.”
Few involved think the particulars of this case, even though it has been settled, will stay at a simmer, especially given its ubiquity in right-wing media.
“In yet another sweetheart deal, Hunter Biden got off easy in his child support case,” wrote the editorial board of The New York Post, which has followed the proceedings closely.
Aside from the news coverage and commentary, allies of the Biden family are privately worried that the involvement of right-wing operatives in the matter has made any engagement harder for the family.
Mr. Ziegler, who was named as an expert witness in the case, had a footnote role in Mr. Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election results: In December 2020, Mr. Ziegler escorted Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the attorney Sidney Powell into the Oval Office, where a group discussed with Mr. Trump a plan to seize control of voting machines in key states. Mr. Ziegler’s White House guest privileges were later revoked.
Mr. Ziegler declined to confirm his involvement in the child support case.
Ms. Roberts’s attorney, Mr. Lancaster, also has a background in conservative activism. He is vocal on social media about his support for Mr. Trump, often retweeting criticism from conservative outlets and Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter. He also worked as an attorney for the Trump campaign during an electoral vote recount in Wisconsin after the 2020 election.
On the other side, people affiliated with left-leaning organizations, including Facts First USA, an advocacy group run by David Brock, are wary of what the team surrounding Ms. Roberts may do as the 2024 campaign gets underway.
Members of the group, which operates independently of the White House and has taken a more adversarial approach to critics than the Biden administration does, have circulated a photo of Ms. Roberts’s father posing with Donald Trump Jr. Mr. Roberts said in a text message that he has gone hunting with Mr. Trump but that he did not recall when they had first met.
The Republican pollster Frank Luntz said it was “a waste of time” for activists to focus on attacking the president’s family because voters do not care about Hunter Biden as much as they care about other issues, including Ukraine and inflation.
“You have the responsibility to hold people accountable, but I want to be clear: It will not change a single vote,” he said of Hunter Biden’s legal and personal problems.
If the Roberts family is taking political advice — outside of any that might come from the family attorney — they aren’t saying. In Batesville, the girl’s maternal grandmother, Kimberly Roberts, said in a brief telephone interview that she would not comment on the case.
She did have one thing to say, though.
“My granddaughter is happy, healthy, and very loved,” Ms. Roberts said, before hanging up.
Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting from Washington, and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.