White House defends Biden’s fiery Philadelphia speech, says it was not political

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WASHINGTON — After President Biden delivered a combative speech Thursday in Philadelphia on the threat the nation faces from what he called “MAGA Republicans,” the White House defended his message — and the unsparing tones with which it was delivered — as a necessary reminder that former President Donald Trump and his supporters are imperiling American democracy.

At a summit on his coronavirus relief plan on Friday, Biden rejected the notion that his issue was with Trump's supporters or with the Republican Party as a whole. The target of his criticism, he told reporters, was “anybody who calls for violence and fails to condemn violence.”

President Joe Biden hammers home his point at a podium carrying the presidential seal.
President Biden delivers a speech at Independence National Historical Park on Sept. 1 in Philadelphia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Biden and other Democrats have sought to make the 2022 midterm election a choice not between two parties but between democracy and authoritarianism. Their strategy has inadvertently been helped along by Republican candidates for state and federal office who deny the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“Everything we stand for rests on the platform of democracy,” Biden added, in a gentler reprise of Thursday’s message.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also defended the president’s speech in a Friday afternoon briefing. “Standing up for democracy is not political. Denouncing political violence is not political. Defending rights and freedom is not political,” she argued.

Republicans and conservative media personalities have attacked every aspect of the speech, from its setting to its content. “Joe Biden is the divider-in-chief and epitomizes the current state of the Democrat Party: one of divisiveness, disgust, and hostility towards half the country,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, said in a statement.

On Fox News, a former Trump administration official described the image of Biden standing before Independence Hall, bathed in red light and flanked by two U.S. Marines, as “almost satanic.”

Karine Jean-Pierre, wearing bright red, at the podium.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at the White House daily briefing on Friday. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Such responses seemed to delight Democrats, who saw Republican dismay as evidence that the speech, which did not introduce any new policy proposals or executive branch initiatives, had achieved its intended goal: to make clear to Americans that returning Congress to Republican control in November would be a disastrous decision from which democracy would never recover.

The Lincoln Project, a group formed by anti-Trump conservatives, praised Biden’s speech as a “watershed moment,” expressing hope in Biden’s desire to “take on the destructive forces that are threatening the nation.”

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee, called the speech “one of the most important I've seen a president give,” agreeing with the president that the “MAGA faction that incites violent insurrections and rejects the rule of law” is a threat to democracy.

It also offered a preview of how Biden might conduct a reelection campaign in 2024, in which he is all but certain to face either Trump or an acolyte of the former president, such as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida or Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“It’s time to take a stand,” Jean-Pierre said on Friday, making clear, without saying so explicitly — which would violate federal law — that voters should bear this in mind at the polling booth in November. “It’s time to take action.”