WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden delivered an urgent call to the country Thursday night, asserting in a prime-time speech that American democracy remains in great peril and bluntly singling out the person he sees as the biggest threat to the system: former President Donald Trump.
Speaking from Independence Hall, where the United States’ experiment in self-government began 246 years ago, Biden sought to rally a divided public around the nation’s bedrock principles. At the same time, he accused the Republicans most loyal to Trump of abandoning those principles and undermining Americans’ faith in the democratic process and the justice system.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” Biden said. “Donald Trump and these MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Attempting to distinguish between more mainstream Republicans and those more closely aligned with Trump and his “Make America Great Again” or “MAGA” political movement, Biden said that “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards … to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”
Although Biden’s oratory was largely a sermon about the poisonous effect of political polarization, it was also 24-minutes of heavy political bombardment. Like his speech about law and order Tuesday in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Biden’s impassioned remarks were an effort to convince voters that the Republican party is extreme.
By focusing voters on Trump and his most ardent backers in Washington, D.C., the president looked to frame the November midterms, which will determine whether Democrats maintain control of Congress, as a choice between two diametrically opposed political parties, not a referendum on Biden’s first two years in office.
“We are still at our core a democracy,” Biden said. “And yet, history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and the willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to a democracy. For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not. We have to defend it.”
The issue of democracy itself, long thought to be a political dud despite threatening the nation, has become a top consideration for voters. Dramatic congressional hearings into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s apparent refusal to return classified documents have dominated the news of late and captured Americans’ attention. In fact, an NBC News poll last week showed “threats to democracy” ranked as the most important issue for voters.
“We are not powerless in the face of these threats. We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy,” Biden said. “There are far more Americans … that reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those who accept it.”
The Justice Department’s investigation into Trump has shown just how far some GOP lawmakers will go in defending the former president. Trump loyalists in Congress have tried to downplay his alleged violations of the Presidential Records Act and potential obstruction of the investigation itself. Some have suggested defunding the FBI, which executed the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., even warned that the government eventually indicting Trump would lead to “riots in the streets.”
On Thursday, Trump claimed during a radio interview that he was financially supporting some Capitol insurrectionists and said he would be “looking very strongly at full pardons” for them if he were to become president again. The former president remains unapologetic for inciting a riot that struck directly at America’s democratic process and left several people dead. The U.S. government, Trump said Thursday, should apologize to the rioters.
Biden, his presidency reinvigorated after a late summer spurt of legislative wins, has ramped up his attacks on Republicans as the campaign’s final two-month sprint nears, blasting “MAGA Republicans” for putting their fealty to Trump ahead of bedrock democratic principles and describing the turn toward violent threats and absolutism as “semi-fascism.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., aimed to pre-but Biden’s remarks, delivering his own speech in the president’s hometown of Scranton, some 125 miles north of Philadelphia, and calling on him to apologize “for slandering tens of millions of Americans as ‘fascists.’ ”
McCarthy, who wants to be Speaker if Republicans capture the House in November, suggested life would be better for Americans under a GOP majority, attacking Biden and Democrats on immigration and over COVID-19 restrictions while attempting to turn the president’s critique back on him.
“In the past two years, Joe Biden has launched an assault on the soul of America, on its people, on its laws, on its most sacred values,” McCarthy said. “He has launched an assault on our democracy. His policies have severely wounded America’s soul, diminished America’s spirit and betrayed America’s trust.”
Promising to utilize the majority’s oversight authority to investigate the Biden administration should Republicans control the House, McCarthy stuck to the GOP’s line, suggesting the FBI’s investigation of Trump is political – even after Trump, in messages on his social media platform, admitted to possessing the sensitive material that belongs to the government.
“Joe Biden often says our democracy is under threat. He’s right, but not for the reason he thinks,” McCarthy said. “Joe Biden and a politicized DOJ launched a raid on the home of his top political rival, Donald Trump. That is an assault on democracy.”