(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden accused Donald Trump and Republicans who back him of endangering US democracy and urged Americans to reject any candidate backed by his predecessor in the November midterm election.
“Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our republic,” Biden said Thursday in a prime-time speech from Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, the site of the signing of the US Constitution.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution, they do not believe in the rule of law, they do not recognize the will of the people,” he said referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. “They’re working right now as I speak in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies.”
The fiery speech, which the White House had billed as crystallizing the “battle for the soul of the nation,” highlighted the president’s shift to campaign mode two months out from the midterms that will determine whether Democrats can retain their slim House and Senate majorities.
The president has escalated attacks on congressional Republicans and supporters of Trump in recent days, accusing them of seeking to undermine the country’s democratic institutions, sow doubts about the election process, and push policies at odds with American voters.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards, backwards to an America where there’s no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love,” said Biden. “They promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.”
The president repeatedly has hammered GOP efforts to heavily restrict abortion access after the Supreme Court in June overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. He’s assailed GOP leaders’ opposition to banning assault weapons -- as well as the lack of a single Republican vote in Congress for Democrats’ health care, tax and climate package.
Biden also peppered Thursday’s speech with references to his accomplishments, such as a sprawling Covid aid package passed early in his term -- and repeatedly chastised Republicans for stoking fear and anger among voters.
He condemned “talk about violence as an acceptable political tool,” adding, “I want to say this plain and simple, there is no place for political violence in America.”
The speech largely skirted the specifics of recent campaign events, and instead called on Americans to stay within the “guardrails” of the democratic system and reject efforts to impede or overturn election results.
But the speech also highlighted the opposition to Biden. Even as the president spoke, occasional chants from nearby protesters rang out, including “Let’s Go Brandon,” an insult used by his opponents that plays on the president’s name combined with an expletive.
At one point, Biden stopped and said dissenters had a right to make their views heard, drawing applause. “Good manners is nothing they’ve ever suffered from,” he added.
Biden’s speech, which was built up by the White House, was carried live on CNN and MSNBC but not on any of the three broadcast networks. On Fox News, footage of the speech played silently in the background as Tucker Carlson offered commentary.
Republicans did not wait to hit back at Biden’s rhetoric. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered the Republican response to the speech before Biden had given it. McCarthy also laid claim to fighting for the “soul of America,” criticizing Biden on inflation and border security, along with hot-button culture war issues, such as rules for transgender athletes.
He shot back at Biden’s recent remark likening the views of the staunch, Trump-backing Republican cohort to “semi-fascism,” accusing the president of slandering all GOP voters.
“The first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists,” McCarthy said. “This is a national referendum -- a referendum on inflation, illegal immigration, indoctrination and crime at home and humiliation abroad.”
Trump, meanwhile, has stood by his defense of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and attacked law enforcement officers in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 election.
The former president said earlier Thursday he would issue full pardons and an official apology to people convicted of crimes during the insurrection, moves that could only happen if he becomes president again, adding that he has met with and financially supported some of the defendants.
“What they’ve done to these people is disgraceful,” Trump said in an interview with a conservative radio host.
Biden and congressional Democrats are coming off a series of legislative and policy victories; improved data on inflation; and polls showing the president’s standing with the public improving.
Biden spoke at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in suburban Maryland last week, and his speech Thursday was his second visit to the battleground state of Pennsylvania this week. During a Tuesday trip to Wilkes-Barre, he called attacks on the FBI for its role in the search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence “sickening.”
Pennsylvania is holding a number of high-profile election contests, including the open Senate seat race that is pitting Republican Mehmet Oz against the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman. Trump will visit Pennsylvania this weekend for a rally alongside Oz and Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
The Labor Day holiday will take Biden to more midterm battlegrounds, with a return visit to Pennsylvania, as well as a stop in Wisconsin. He is also headed to Ohio next week for the groundbreaking at an Intel Corp. plant in the state.
In his appearances, Biden has appeared buoyed and energized by his recent wins. A Gallup poll last week found that 44% of Americans now approve of him, up from a low of 38% in July. Still, Biden remains underwater, with 53% of Americans disapproving of his job performance.
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