Administration

White House officials reject criticism Biden speech was ‘political’

President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

White House officials on Thursday pushed back against criticism that President Biden’s prime-time speech, in which he warned that former President Trump and his ideology pose a threat to democracy, was overly political in nature, arguing that Biden was simply recognizing the urgency of the issue.

Biden delivered a speech from Independence Hall in Philadelphia in which he said Trump and other so-called “MAGA Republicans” have embraced ideas corrosive to democracy, like denying election results,  spreading conspiracy theories and attacking law enforcement.

But Republicans and some in the media seized on Biden’s criticisms of Trump and his supporters, as well as the Marines stationed behind the president as he spoke, to suggest Biden had given an overtly political speech despite press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisting earlier in the day the remarks would not be.

“Whatever you think of this speech, the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it,” CNN anchor Brianna Keilar, whose husband is in the military, tweeted.

“Like or loathe what he said tonight, it should be noted: The president spoke tonight on the grounds of a national park, flanked by US Marines, and took direct, specific aim at his predecessor and members of the Republican Party,” CBS correspondent Ed O’Keefe tweeted. “Another thing we don’t see everyday.”

Bret Baier, a Fox News anchor, said on air after the speech that it was reminiscent of a convention speech.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) tweeted that Biden’s speech “was just another opportunity to disparage his fellow Americans. Disgraceful.”

White House officials pushed back strongly against those who suggested the president’s speech was political, arguing the issue of defending democracy is not a partisan issue and that Biden was simply reciting facts about Trump and his supporters.

Andrew Bates, a deputy press secretary at the White House, responded to individual journalists who suggested the speech had political undertones with links from their own news outlets describing threats to U.S. democracy.

“Democracy is not a partisan or political issue,” tweeted deputy press secretary Chris Meagher, responding directly to Keilar’s tweet.

“Many great journalists have reported as fact that the former President & his most loyal supporters in Congress are a threat to democracy. They tried to overthrow an election, including by force,” tweeted Jesse Lee, a communications adviser to the National Economic Council. “The President bluntly described the same facts. It’s not ‘political,’ it’s his duty.”

Biden used his speech to warn that Trump and so-called “MAGA Republicans” who back his views pose a grave threat to the country’s democratic values, echoing a message that he delivered throughout the 2020 campaign.

“As I stand here tonight equality and democracy are under assault,” Biden said. “Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

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