A series of speeches delivered to packed gyms over the past week have left even some White House aides surprised by President Joe Biden’s new push.
Yet when Biden delivers a rare prime-time speech Thursday night from Philadelphia, Biden’s bleak assessment of American democracy is not likely to draw any cheers from the small in-person audience outside Independence Hall. Instead, Thursday’s comments will take on a much more solemn tone, officials say.
“The forces of MAGA are determined to take this country back. Back to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry the one you love.” he will say, according to advanced excerpts from his speech, referring to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
“For a long time, we have made sure that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Defend it. Each and every one of us,” Biden plans to say in his speech.
After lashing out at Republicans for what he calls “MAGA extremism” and “semi-fascism,” administration officials say Biden determined the time was right to provide a sober and sober account of what he sees as the growing forces anti-democratic organizations that are being built throughout the country.
“This is not a speech about the former president,” a senior administration official told reporters. “It’s a speech about democracy.”
It’s a theme Biden has come to embrace more publicly in recent months, having initially tried to ignore the aftermath of his predecessor and focus instead on national unity. At its heart, the speech, which the White House says will focus on the “ongoing battle for the soul of the nation,” represents the same overarching theme that defined the launch of his 2019 presidential campaign when he set out to defeat Trump.
He remained a constant throughout high-profile speeches in places steeped in historical symbolism, including Warm Springs, Georgia, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The prime-time speech will be no different, this time with the backdrop of the nation’s revolutionary beginning.
However, the speech will also serve as an implicit acknowledgment that Biden’s efforts to overcome the division and chaos of former President Donald Trump have been more difficult than he could have imagined. Trump continues to dominate headlines, especially in recent weeks after federal agents raided his Florida home, revealing an investigation into the former president’s possession of classified documents after he left office. Biden’s speech will come hours after a court hearing related to that investigation.
“The way he sees it, the MAGA Republicans are the strongest part of the Republican Party,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said a day before the speech. “It’s an extreme threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights. They just don’t respect the rule of law.”
White House officials emphasized that when Biden warns of the threat to democracy, he is not talking about Republicans as a whole, but about those who follow Trump: the “MAGA Republicans,” as the administration has deemed them.
Asked if Biden will appoint Trump directly, given that he is the face of the movement, the senior official said: “It will be a very direct discussion.”
Before the speech, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said that Biden was dividing the nation.
“Joe Biden is the divider in chief and epitomizes the current state of the Democratic Party: one of division, revulsion and hostility toward half the country,” he said in a statement.
Biden has been contemplating a speech on American democracy for several months, prompted in part by revealing hearings called by the congressional commission investigating the Jan. 6 riots, according to an official. He, too, has watched with alarm as election deniers running for state office have been elevated by Trump and was outraged by the attempted attack on an FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“This is a speech that the president has been thinking about for a long time. He’s been working on it for a while,” a senior administration official said. “It’s not a response to any news of the day. It’s a response to what he sees as a moment in this country.”