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Biden to amplify democracy defense, and honor McCain, in Arizona speech

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PHOENIX -- President Joe Biden will deliver a major speech Thursday on protecting American democracy, a theme emerging as central to his reelection campaign as he seeks to make plain the choice between him and the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Biden selected Arizona -- a state where Trump attempted to challenge the 2020 election results and considered a major battleground again next year -- as the setting for his fourth major speech on protecting democracy. It is also home to the late Sen. John McCain, who Biden has pointed to as an example of what the Republican Party used to stand for before Trump was elected. Biden will center his speech around McCain's legacy to make the case that preserving American institutions should not be a partisan issue, the White House said. The president is fond of saying that McCain, a vocal Trump critic who died in 2018, would put patriotism before party. "We have to stand up for America's values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won't," Biden plans to say, according to excerpts released by the White House. "We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won't." Biden will also stress "we must not walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend our democracy," said a White House official previewing the speech. Biden's comments come a day after the second Republican primary debate, during which candidates took a handful of swipes at Trump -- who skipped the event altogether -- but seemed to fail to make a meaningful dent in his clear path to the nomination. As the general election comes into clearer focus, Biden aides are betting that homing in on democracy will buoy the president's campaign, especially after a spasm of political violence and threats to election integrity have shocked the American system in recent years. Those close to Biden believe that the issue, along with abortion rights, helped propel Democrats to a far stronger than expected showing during the 2022 midterm elections. Biden has both publicly and privately noted that pundits were wrong in suggesting his closing argument last November should have been about the economy rather than the dangers of political extremism, according to three people close to the president granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss those conversations. The Biden team had thought the danger posed by Trump would fade over time, or that attacks from Republican primary candidates would drag him down. Instead, Trump has continued to dominate the Republican field even as criminal indictments against him have mounted. That was one factor that pushed Biden to deliver another speech on the need to protect the nation's democracy. The topic has also featured prominently in his remarks at recent closed-door fundraisers, including several in the past week in California and New York. In those more relaxed, off-camera settings, Biden has warned that "democracy is on the ballot" and has taken a series of his most direct swipes at Trump yet. "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy because they want to break down institutional structures," Biden said Tuesday at a San Francisco fundraiser. "Political violence in America is never, never, never, never acceptable." In the coming months, Biden intends to adhere to his plan not to directly address Trump's legal issues for fear of being seen as influencing the process. Instead, he and his staff believe a series of warnings by the president about the ongoing threats to the nation's foundation will help drive home the point. Aides originally thought about delivering this speech at another American historical landmark -- George Washington's former military base at Valley Forge, Pa., was considered -- but ultimately decided to use the moment to also honor McCain. His widow, Cindy McCain, who heads the U.N. World Food Program, was expected to attend the event Thursday along with other family members. Biden was also expected to announce funding from the American Rescue Plan to construct the McCain Library. Earlier this month while visiting Hanoi, Biden was joined by old friends in paying tribute to McCain and he later told associates it was one of the most moving moments of his presidency, according to one of the people close to the president.

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