'MAGA Republicans' are a threat to democracy, White House says

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WASHINGTON — With President Biden preparing to deliver a speech on the state of American democracy Thursday evening, the White House intensified its rhetorical attacks Wednesday on what it calls “MAGA Republicans” who support former President Donald Trump and share many of his views.

“The president thinks there’s an extremist threat to our democracy,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing in what appeared to be a preview of the president’s remarks, which he will make from Philadelphia’s iconic Independence Hall.

The speech will focus on a “battle for the soul of the nation,” according to the White House. The theme is an allusion to Biden’s 2019 announcement that he was seeking the presidency, a campaign that he said in a video was inspired by the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Va., two years before.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at a White House lectern.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at the daily White House briefing on Wednesday. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Jean-Pierre described “MAGA Republicans” — a term Biden has recently come to embrace — as “the most energized part of the Republican Party.” The president views the pro-Trump faction, she said, as an “extreme threat to our democracy, to our freedom, to our rights. They just don’t respect the rule of law. They are pursuing an agenda that takes away people’s rights.”

Political tensions, already deep, have grown even deeper since the Aug. 8 raid at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's South Florida resort and residence, during which federal law enforcement recovered sensitive documents. In a Fox News appearance over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned that there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump faced prosecution from the Justice Department.

It is not clear whether Biden will lay out any specific proposals in Thursday’s address. A White House official told Yahoo News that the president would use his remarks to describe “how our rights and freedoms are still under attack. And he will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms and fighting for our democracy.”

Legislation to expand and enshrine voting access — which experts see as a key reform — is all but impossible given the Democrats’ narrow majorities on Capitol Hill. But with the congressional midterms approaching, the president may view the far simpler task of drawing a stark political contrast with Republicans as a more effective use of his energy.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally under a sign that says: Save America!
Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wis., on Aug. 5. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

He did just that in his remarks at a rally for Democrats in suburban Maryland last Thursday. “Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice: to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division,” Biden said, referencing MAGA — an acronym for Trump’s 2016 slogan “Make America Great Again” — more than a dozen times.

Speaking in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday, the president chastised Republicans who claimed they were pro-police but refused to support an investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, during which police officers were attacked.

“Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress,” Biden said. “Don't tell me you support law enforcement if you won't condemn what happened on the 6th. You can't do it. For God's sake, whose side are you on?"

It has never been exactly clear just how much of the Republican Party the phrase is intended to encapsulate. During Wednesday’s briefing, Jean-Pierre pointed to Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar posting violent videos to YouTube last year and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calling last week for physical violence against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top adviser on the coronavirus pandemic.

She offered similar condemnation of extremist rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and outgoing Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, as well as from Trump himself.

“These are things we have to call out,” she said.