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Biden attacks Trump, saying his wing of the Republican party is a threat to democracy

President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall on Sept. 1, in Philadelphia.
Evan Vucci
/
AP
President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall on Sept. 1, in Philadelphia.

Updated September 1, 2022 at 9:31 PM ET

President Biden on Thursday warned Americans that democracy is under attack from a faction of the Republican party led by former President Donald Trump, and called on Democrats, mainstream Republicans and independents to "speak up, speak out, get engaged — vote, vote vote."

In a rare prime time speech, Biden attacked his predecessor, saying that "too much of what's happening in our country today isn't normal." The speech came just two months ahead of midterm congressional elections, where Democrats are fighting to keep their slim majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Biden said the Republican party is "dominated, driven, intimidated by Donald Trump" and his supporters, calling it "a threat to this country."

"They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they're working right now as I speak in state after state to give the power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself," Biden said, speaking outside Independence National Historical Park in downtown Philadelphia.

The White House claimed it was not a political speech, but Biden launched multiple political broadsides against Trump and his supporters. He called them "MAGA Republicans" — referring to the 'Make America Great Again' slogan used by the former president.

"Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," he said.

Biden is looking to capitalize on recent momentum, strategists say

After months of struggling in the polls, Biden is seeking to capitalize on a series of legislative wins, concerns about the impact of the Supreme Court's abortion ruling --- and from ongoing coverage of Trump's legal problems, said Doug Sosnik, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

"The real power of the presidency is understanding the use of the bully pulpit," Sosnik said. "The better your standing with the American public, the more likely you are to have an impact with the speech."

Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster, praised Biden and his team for shifting their strategy and taking on Republicans more directly.

He said Biden is wise to establish more contrast between himself and Trump and the Republicans. "Every hero needs a villain," Tulchin said. "And Donald Trump plays a very good villain."

Republicans said Biden was being divisive

Speaking ahead of the address, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called on Biden to apologize.

"President Biden has chosen to divide, demean, and disparage his fellow Americans — why? Simply because they disagree with his policies," McCarthy said in his own speech from Pennsylvania. "That is not leadership."

Biden sought to make clear that he was not criticizing all Republicans, calling on mainstream Republicans to reject that wing of their party.

"We are not powerless in the face of these threats. We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy," he said. "There are far more Americans, far more Americans from every background and belief who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it. "

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.