President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College January 5, 2024 in Pennsylvania. In his first campaign event of the 2024 election season, Biden stated that democracy and fundamental freedoms are under threat if former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WHITPAIN TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Reflecting on the fight to establish America as a democracy and the events that nearly toppled it three years ago, President Joe Biden warned of the danger he believes former President Donald Trump poses to American ideals.
“Today we’re here to answer the most important question. Is democracy still America’s sacred cause?” Biden said. “It’s what the 2024 election is all about.”
In his first campaign speech of 2024, Biden said there is a clear choice between him and Trump, his likely Republican opponent.
“Donald Trump’s campaign is about him, not America, not you,” Biden said. “He’s obsessed with the past, not the future. He’s willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power.”
Biden said his campaign, in contrast, would strengthen and preserve American democracy and reflect people of every age and background.
“It’s about the future we’re going to continue to build together,” he said.
Gov. Josh Shapiro told reporters before the speech that Biden’s message about Democracy is one that resonates with Pennsylvania residents, who take great pride in the state’s history as the birthplace of democracy. But Shapiro said he believes that Trump should also be held accountable for the chaos he sowed during his presidency and the promises he has made to continue.
As an example, Shapiro noted that Trump’s policies, such as his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, would cause upheaval for more than a million Pennsylvania residents who buy their insurance through the program.
“You are creating chaos in their families, you’re creating real problems,” Shapiro said.
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) drew cheers as he worked the crowd at Montgomery County Community College in the Philadelphia suburbs wearing his trademark shorts, Carhartt hoodie and a Pittsburgh Steelers knit cap with a black bauble on top.
“Whoever wins Pennsylvania is going to be the president for their second term,” Fetterman said, adding he was confident Biden would win again “just like he did in 2020.”
He called the setting of the speech symbolic. “I just can’t think of a better kind of a background,” Fetterman told reporters after the speech.
Biden, who walked out on stage with First Lady Jill Biden to chants of “four more years,” delivered his speech a few miles from Valley Forge National Park, which he visited after landing there in Marine One on Friday afternoon.
Biden invoked the imagery of the harsh winter that the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge, without proper clothing or supplies, under the leadership of Gen. George Washington, who led Americans to victory in the Revolutionary War.
“This ragtag army, made up of ordinary people, their mission, George Washington declared, was nothing less than a sacred cause … freedom, liberty, democracy, American democracy,” Biden said.
Biden spoke, he noted, one day before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol when the United States came close to losing everything Washington and his troops had suffered and fought for.
Throughout his speech, Biden referred to Trump by name nearly 40 times, invoking the string of lawsuits, personal attacks, false statements and what he called the former president’s dereliction of duty in the lies and incitement that led to the insurrection.
“As America was attacked from within, Donald Trump watched on TV from a small private dining room off the Oval Office. The entire nation watched in horror, the whole world watched in disbelief and Trump did nothing,” Biden said.
In the years since the insurrection, Biden said, Trump has embraced the violence of that day, calling the people arrested for their role in the attack “patriots,” and even cracking jokes in a campaign rally about the hammer attack by a supporter “whipped up by the big lie” that left former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul severely injured.
“He laughed about it. What a sick …” Biden said, without finishing the sentence.
Biden, who was fiery for most of the speech, paused to contain his anger as he recalled Trump referring to soldiers as “suckers and losers” during a visit to a cemetery where U.S. soldiers killed in World War I were interred in France.
“How dare he? Who in God’s name does he think he is?” Biden asked. His late son, Beau Biden, was an Army officer.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, conservative members of Congress and political commentators publicly and privately condemned Trump’s conduct, Biden noted, calling it embarrassing and humiliating for the nation. But as time went on, many have renewed their allegiance to Trump and abandoned democracy.
Those who remain, Democrats, independents and mainstream Republicans, must make a hard choice, Biden said.
“Today I make the sacred pledge to you, the defense, protection, and preservation of American democracy will remain, as it has been, the central cause of my presidency,” Biden said.
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