With an eye clearly on November’s midterm elections, President Biden on Wednesday sharpened his attack on Republicans as he sought to contrast his administration’s policies with what he described as an “extreme” GOP agenda.
In prepared remarks touting his administration’s deficit reduction efforts, Biden excoriated Republicans for pursuing policies in line with former President Trump’s political movement and seized on an unpopular economic blueprint put forward by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Biden said the plan would raise taxes on millions of Americans.
“I don’t want to hear Republicans talking about deficits and their ultra-MAGA agenda,” he said, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. “I want to hear about fairness. I want to hear about decency. I want to hear about helping ordinary people.”
Asked about the Supreme Court draft opinion that would end nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights protections, Biden warned it portends threats on other issues including LBGTQ rights in GOP-controlled states. In his most pointed attack yet on the Republican Party, Biden said, “What are the next things that are going to be attacked? Because this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that's existed in ... recent American history.”
The speech marked a deliberate shift in tone for Biden, who has been reluctant to attack Republicans during his first 15 months in office as he pursued a more bipartisan approach to politicking and messaging on issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and infrastructure.
The escalation in rhetoric comes as the White House begins to take a tougher line on Republicans in an effort to stave off Democratic losses in November’s midterms. The party is struggling to overcome surging inflation, low approval ratings for Biden and historical headwinds that usually spell trouble for the party in the White House in its first term. Republicans have sought to turn the midterms into a referendum on Biden. In a tweet early Wednesday, the GOP bashed Biden over soaring gas prices and inflation as well as immigration and crime.
The White House, meanwhile, has increasingly tried to reframe the election as a choice between Democrats and a MAGA agenda that rescinds abortion rights, favors the rich and promotes divisive cultural politics. Biden’s remarks, which included 11 mentions of “MAGA,” also came a day after Trump-backed candidate J.D. Vance won Ohio’s tightly contested GOP Senate primary, reaffirming the former president’s grip on the Republican Party.
“Elections are about choices, and choices that require the president to make that contrast in the run-up to the election,” said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist who remains close to the White House. “Now is the appropriate time to start hitting that message on a sustained basis.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found Americans trust Republicans over Democrats by nearly 20 points to boost the economy and tame inflation. The same poll found only 28% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling inflation compared with 68% who disapprove of his stewardship on the issue.
The White House has tried to contrast its economic message with GOP proposals by highlighting Scott’s plan, which has been notably rebuffed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans. The plan proposes a sunset on all federal laws every five years unless reauthorized by Congress, which could potentially eliminate popular programs like Medicare and Social Security.
“It’s extreme, as most MAGA things are,” Biden said.
Following Biden’s remarks, Scott accused Biden of mischaracterizing his plan and criticized the president for not mentioning inflation. “Almost every sentence was a complete lie,” he told Fox News.
With mounting concerns about inflation, the White House has tried to shift the focus of its stalled domestic agenda to spotlight deficit reduction in an effort to win favor with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, a key Democrat who all but killed Biden’s climate and social spending package in December. Manchin has said any revised part of Biden’s economic plan — including climate change measures, drug-pricing reform or raising corporate taxes — would need to cut the deficit.
Biden said Wednesday that his administration was on track to cut the national deficit by more than $1.5 trillion this year.
“He’s gotten out of Republicans on Capitol Hill basically what he can get at this point, and it’s time to pass the remaining parts of his agenda through Congress, which will happen by and large through Democrats,” LaBolt said.
“Republicans have been talking about inflation and crime and their message every day for months. It’s time for the president to get out there and present his contrast and his vision.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.