WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will sound the alarm Thursday night over what he sees as “extremist” threats to American democracy from restive forces of Trumpism, aimed at reframing the November election as part of a of a relentless battle for the “soul of the nation.”
Almost two years after defeating Donald Trump, it’s a Biden cover 2020 campaign theme, throwing the midterm election stakes in terms as disastrous as those that sent him to the Oval Office. His prime-time speech at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall will lay out what he sees as the risks of those he has dubbed “ultra-MAGA Republicans” to the country’s system of government, his position at the foreigner and the way of life of its citizens.
Biden’s explicit effort to sideline Trump and his “Make America Great Again” supporters marks a sharp turn for the president, who preached his desire to achieve national unity in his inaugural address. White House officials said it reflected his growing concern over Trump’s conservative ideological proposals and denial of the 2020 election.
Biden, who had largely avoided even referring to ‘the old guy’ by name during his first year in office, grew more and more vocal by calling Trump personally. Now, emboldened by his party’s recent legislative victories and wary of Trump’s return to the headlines, Biden is stepping up his attacks.
At a Democratic fundraiser last week, Biden compared “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”
In Philadelphia, White House officials said, Biden intends to revisit the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., which he says brought him out of political retirement to challenge Trump. Biden plans to argue that the country faces a similar crossroads in the coming months.
“The president thinks there is an extremist threat to our democracy,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t stop. It continues.
Biden’s allies point out that he does not dismiss the entire GOP and would use his remarks to call on mainstream Republicans to join him in condemning Trump and his supporters. It’s a balancing act, given that more than 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020.
“I respect conservative Republicans,” Biden said last week. “I don’t respect those MAGA Republicans.”
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy rejected such a distinction, accusing the president of trying to “disparage American workers.” He planned to deliver a preemptive rebuttal to Biden from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the president was born.
In remarks earlier Thursday on Fox News, McCarthy said Biden was “trying to distract from the disaster he’s created in this country.”
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s remarks, said the president’s speech was not aimed at any politician or the GOP as a whole, but rather Trump supporters who have denied the 2020 election results and sowed doubt. on future competitions. The official said Biden would recognize the importance of political disagreements in a country as diverse as the United States, but would aim to draw a line under rhetoric and actions that question the health of the country’s democracy.
The official said Biden was aiming to speak “not as a Democratic president, but as the president of a democracy.”
Larry Diamond, democracy expert and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said calling Trump for attacks on democracy “can be manipulated or portrayed as partisan. And if you don’t don’t call, you are backing down from a significant challenge in the defense of democracy.
Even this week, Trump was posting on his beleaguered social media platform about nullifying the 2020 election results and holding a new presidential election, which would violate the Constitution.
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University, said it’s not unusual for there to be tension between a president and his successor, but it’s “unprecedented for a former president to ‘actively trying to undermine the US Constitution’.
“The challenge facing President Biden is to pursue his agenda while doing what he needs to uphold the Constitution,” Naftali said. “It is not easy.”
The White House has tried to keep Biden out of the legal and political maelstrom surrounding the Justice Department’s discovery of classified documents in Trump’s Florida home. Still, Biden took advantage of some Republicans’ quick condemnation of federal law enforcement.
“You can’t be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurgency,” Biden said Tuesday in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Biden’s Thursday night appearance was promoted as an official taxpayer-funded event, a mark of how the president sees defeating Trump’s agenda as much of a political goal as a political one. Major broadcast television networks were not to carry the address live.
Biden’s trip to Philadelphia is just one of his three trips to the state in a week, a sign of Pennsylvania’s midterm prominence with competitive races for Senate and governor. However, neither Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee, nor Attorney General Josh Shapiro, their gubernatorial pick, were expected to attend Thursday night.
Trump is planning a rally this weekend in Scranton, Biden’s birthplace.
The White House wanted the speech to unite familiar themes: Presenting bipartisan legislative victories on guns and infrastructure as proof that democracies “can deliver,” pushing back against GOP policies on guns and abortion that , according to Biden, do not align with most people’s views, and reject efforts to undermine confidence in the nation’s election or diminish its standing abroad.
The challenges have only increased since the uproar surrounding the 2020 election and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
The lies surrounding this presidential race have sparked harassment and death threats against state and local election officials and new restrictions on mail-in voting in Republican-dominated states. County election officials have come under pressure to ban the use of voting equipment, efforts spurred by conspiracy theories that voting machines were somehow manipulated to steal the election.
Candidates challenging Trump’s loss have been inspired to run in state and local elections, promising to restore the integrity of a system that has been plagued by misrepresentation.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines. Judges, including those appointed by Trump, dismissed dozens of lawsuits filed after the election, and Trump’s own attorney general called the allegations false. Still, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll showed about two-thirds of Republicans say they don’t think Biden was legitimately elected president.
This year, election officials face not only the lingering threat of foreign interference, but also ransomware, politically motivated hackers and insider threats. Over the past year, security breaches have been reported at a small number of local election offices where authorities are investigating whether office staff accessed or provided inappropriate access to sensitive voting technology.
Associated Press writer Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.