Biden speaks on battle for 'soul of the nation,' calls out Trump in prime-time remarks

He is sharpening his attacks on "MAGA Republicans" as the midterms loom.

ByAlexandra Hutzler via ABCNews logo
Friday, September 2, 2022
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Biden, who largely avoided even referring to "the former guy" by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally.

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden is speaking in prime-time Thursday about the state of American democracy as he ramps up his political messaging ahead of the midterm elections this November.

Biden took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, where several hundred people were sitting in white lawn chairs in front of the building's main doors.

"This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated," Biden said. "This is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self government the world has ever known."

"But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault," he continued. "We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise. So, tonight, I've come to this place where it all began, to speak as plainly as I can to the nation about the threats we face, about the power we have in our hands to meet these threats and about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it."

The president mentioned his Oval Office predecessor, Donald Trump, by name as he addressed what he's described as the "MAGA forces" in the GOP.

"Too much of what's happening in our country today is not normal," he said. "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic."

Biden's urgent rhetoric appears to mirror his 2020 messaging, in which he presented himself as a clear contrast to Donald Trump and the race itself as an inflection point for the nation.

Administration officials teased Biden's speech as an extension of his "soul of the nation" message, which first emerged in 2017 after white supremacists clashed with counter protesters in Charlottesville, West Virginia -- the incident Biden said inspired him to run for president.

"You think about the battle continues, and so what the president believes, which is a reason to have this in prime time, is that there are an overwhelming amount of Americans, majority of Americans, who believe that we need to ... save the core values of our country," Jean-Pierre told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce on Wednesday.

"The president thinks that there is an extremist threat to our democracy," she said on Wednesday.

But Jean-Pierre insisted Thursday the prime-time speech wasn't a political one, and would be an "optimistic" message.

"He's going to talk about uniting the people of this country who believe in equality and democracy," she said. "And this is about bringing people together who believe in America. That's what the speech is going to be about."

Biden's appearance in Philadelphia is his second of three stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania this week alone.

At Wilkes University, where made the case Tuesday for his administration's plan for policing and crime prevention, Biden went after MAGA Republicans for their response to the Jan. 6 attack and the FBI search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

"For God's sake, whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?" a fired-up Biden asked.

The GOP issued a preemptive rebuttal of Biden's remarks, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking in Scranton (Biden's hometown) just hours before the president took the stage in Philadelphia. McCarthy criticized Democrats on inflation, crime and the border before demanding Biden "apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists" after the president previously described the ideology being adopted by MAGA Republicans as "semi-facism."

"What Joe Biden doesn't understand is that the soul of America is the tens of millions of hard working people, loving families, and law-abiding citizens whom he vilified for simply wanting a stronger, safer, and more prosperous country," McCarthy said.

"The soul of America is not the ruling class in Washington, it is the law-abiding, tax-paying American citizen," McCarthy said. "The soul of America is our determination to get up and go to work everyday, provide for our families, to love our children, be involved in their education and ensure that this nation and its people always come first."

ABC News' Justin Gomez, Mary Bruce, Sarah Kolinovsky and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.