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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Biden indirectly rebukes Trump at West Point commencement

President Joe Biden speaks about his Investing in America agenda at the Wilmington Convention Center on May 2 in Wilmington, N.C.  (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
By Tyler Pager Washington Post

WEST POINT, N.Y. – President Biden reminded the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday that their oath is to the Constitution, not any political party or president, delivering an implicit rebuke of former president Donald Trump.

In his 22-minute commencement address, Biden did not mention Trump by name, but he made clear that he was referring to his Republican opponent by pointing to a letter that was a clear reprimand of Trump’s leadership. The open letter, signed by more than 1,000 West Point alumni, was addressed to the graduating class of 2020 before Trump delivered the commencement address here. It came just days after military police helped forcibly clear peaceful protesters outside the White House ahead of a Trump photo op. The alumni reminded that year’s graduating class that they pledge service to “no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant.”

“Remember what over 1,000 graduates of West Point wrote to the class of 2020 four years ago,” Biden said. “The oath you’ve taken here ‘has no expiration date,’ they said.”

The oath, Biden said, was “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” calling the cadets “guardians of American democracy.”

Biden’s speech came just months before voters head to the polls to decide whether to grant him a second term or return Trump to office. Public surveys show the two men are locked in a closely contested rematch, and Biden has cast Trump as an existential threat to democracy who would undermine American institutions, including the military, and alliances abroad.

The address also came against the backdrop of a host of foreign policy challenges: Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Israel’s military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, increased competition with China and ongoing threats from Iran.

“We’re doing what only America can do,” Biden said. “As the indispensable nation, the world’s only superpower and the leading democracy in the world, never forget America is the strongest when we lead not only by our example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

Biden also thanked members of the U.S. military for their work around the world as conflicts rage, praising troops for delivering aid to Gaza, helping Israel defend against attacks from Iran and training Ukrainian troops. Still, Biden emphasized that there are no American soldiers in Ukraine and said he’s “determined to keep it that way.”

“There’s never been a time in history when we’ve asked our military to do so many different things in so many different places around the world all at the same time,” Biden said.

But across the country – particularly on college campuses – protests have spread in response to Biden’s staunch support of Israel. Students have been some of Biden’s most vocal critics, calling on him to support a cease-fire in Gaza and end the supply of weapons to Israel.

The president said on Saturday that the United States is conducting “urgent diplomacy” to try to bring Israeli hostages home and secure an immediate cease-fire.

In recent months, Biden has stayed mostly in tightly controlled environments and away from large student gatherings, leaving some Biden allies to worry that the president would face constant interruptions during college commencement season. But last weekend, when Biden spoke at Morehouse College, only a few students silently protested by turning their backs.

Biden faced no interruptions at the military academy, where cadets wore their gray-and-white dress uniforms and where student-led protests would be considered a major breach of conduct. Saturday’s speech was Biden’s third commencement address at West Point; he spoke twice as vice president.

Biden also escaped embarrassments that have befallen him and other presidents in the past.

Last year, after delivering the commencement address at the Air Force Academy, Biden fell while shaking hands with the graduates. Aides said the president fell over a sandbag placed on the stage and said the president was not injured – but the images of the then 80-year-old president falling worried some Democrats, who feared it would exacerbate voters’ concerns about his age.

This year, Biden stood for much of the military academy graduation, shaking hands with each of the 1,036 graduates after they received their diplomas.

In 2020, Trump walked slowly and unsteadily down a ramp at West Point and appeared to have trouble raising a glass of water during the ceremony. Clips of both ricocheted around social media, with critics arguing the appearance raised questions about his health.


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Video: President Biden addressed conflicts around the world in his commencement speech on May 25 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.© 2024 , The Washington Post

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