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Biden to Create Library Honoring His Friend and Rival John McCain

Peter Baker 2023-09-28
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PHOENIX -- President Joe Biden plans to announce Thursday that he will devote federal money to create a library and museum dedicated to his old friend and adversary, Sen. John McCain, seeking to embrace a Republican who stood against former President Donald Trump. After stops in Michigan and California this week, Biden arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday night before a speech at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Thursday morning, when he intends to honor the legacy of McCain, who represented Arizona in the House and Senate for 35 years before dying of brain cancer in 2018. The McCain project was compared by people familiar with the plan to a presidential-style library and museum for a man who tried twice to reach the White House but never did. In affiliation with Arizona State University, the new institution would house McCain's papers as well as offer exhibits about his life, including possibly a reproduction of the so-called Hanoi Hilton, where he was held in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times The announcement will be included in a speech that is meant to focus on what the president characterizes as a battle for American democracy as he faces the prospect of a rematch next year against Trump, who has been charged by both federal and Georgia state prosecutors with trying to subvert the 2020 election to hold on to power. In a summary that it distributed, the White House said defending democracy "continues to be the central cause of Joe Biden's presidency." The speech, according to the White House, will focus on the importance of American institutions in preserving democracy and the value of following the Constitution. It follows three addresses Biden gave last year about the state of the country's democracy, given in the context of Trump's continued presence on the national stage. The renewed focus on what the president calls the threat posed by Trump comes at a time when Biden is being pressed to draw a sharper contrast with his once-and-possibly-future rival to remind disenchanted Democrats and independents of the stakes in next year's election. Months of trying to claim credit for "Bidenomics," as he calls his economic program, have not moved his approval numbers, as many voters, including most Democrats, tell pollsters that they worry about the 80-year-old president's age. Democratic strategists argue that whatever Biden's weaknesses, swing voters will come back to him once they focus on Trump as the alternative. In paying tribute to McCain, Biden hopes to reach out to anti-Trump Republicans and appeal to voters more generally in one of the battleground states that many analysts believe will determine the outcome next year. Biden and McCain served in the Senate together for many years and were friendly despite being from opposite parties. Even after running on opposing tickets in 2008, when McCain was the Republican presidential nominee and Biden was the Democratic vice presidential nominee, they maintained a respectful relationship. McCain was one of the most vocal Republican critics of Trump, and Cindy McCain, the senator's widow, endorsed Biden against the incumbent president of her party in 2020. In return, he appointed her to be his ambassador to United Nations agencies for food and agriculture in Rome. This year, she was appointed executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. Cindy McCain will join Biden on Thursday morning along with other relatives of the senator, Gov. Katie Hobbs and members of Arizona's congressional delegation. The president plans to use leftover money from the American Rescue Plan, the pandemic relief spending package approved shortly after he took office, to finance the new library. The library, described as a facility to provide education, work and health monitoring programs to underserved communities, will be formed in partnership with Arizona State and the McCain Institute, a public policy organization devoted to advancing issues such as democracy, human rights, national security and human trafficking.

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