New Hampshire feels overlooked in Democratic presidential race
Biden calls for unity, jabs at Trump in campaign launch
Joe Biden mixed calls for unity with jabs at President Trump Saturday as he officially launched his presidential campaign in Philadelphia.
Speaking on a Philadelphia stage accompanied by screens that encouraged supporters to text "UNITED" to a campaign number, the former vice president appeared in his signature aviator sunglasses to cast his White House bid as an effort to "restore the soul of our nation."
"Our politics has become so mean, so petty, so negative, so partisan, so angry and so unproductive, so unproductive. Instead of debating our opponents, we demonize them. Instead of questioning judgement, we question their motives. Instead of listening, we shout. Instead of looking for solutions, we look to score political points," he said.
"But no more. No more because this politics is pulling us apart. It's ripping this country apart at the seams. Our politics today traffics in division, and our president is the divider in chief."
Amid the calls for unity, Biden looked past the upcoming primary contest and jumped into general election mode, reserving time to name-check his would-be opponent.
"If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred, they don't need me. They've got President Donald Trump," he told the crowd.
Biden engaged in a call-and-response with the crowd, hitting the president over his response to the 2017 Charlottesville protests, immigration policy and affinity for foreign leaders.
"Let me ask you, are we a nation that believes there's a moral equivalence between white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and those with the courage to stand against them? No, we don't, but Trump does. Are we a nation that believes in ripping children from the arms of their parents at the border? No, we don't, but Trump does. Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un? We don't, but Trump does," he said, with the audience shouting "No!" after each question.
Despite his knocks on Trump, Biden remains dogged by criticism from progressives that he would be too eager to negotiate with Republicans and that a white septuagenarian man is not the right candidate for an increasingly diverse and liberal party.
"In this outsider moment, after Trump won by promising to shake up the system, what could be less appealing to swing voters and our base than a lifelong politician whose main brand is cutting backroom deals with corrupt political insiders and giant corporations? If Joe Biden wants to rebrand himself as a defender of the working class, he can start by endorsing ideas like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal," Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor said in a statement before Saturday's rally.
While the former vice president did not mention controversial positions he took during his decades in the Senate, he did push back on critiques that he would seek to reach compromise across the aisle.
"Some of these same people are saying, 'You know, Biden just doesn't get it. You can't work with Republicans anymore. That's not the way it works anymore.' Well, folks, I'm going to say something outrageous. I know how to make government work," he said. "I've worked across the aisle to reach consensus to make government work in the past."
"I know how to go toe-to-toe with the GOP, but it doesn't have to be and it can't be that way on every single issue," he added.
Biden has staked out a relatively centrist lane in the primary compared to a slew of other candidates running, saying Saturday he would make community college free, invest in "green" infrastructure, spark a "clean energy revolution" and tackle a slew of other Democratic priorities.
"As long as Donald Trump's in the White House, none of these things, these critical things, are going to get done. So if you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is: Beat Trump," he said, appearing to address concerns that his climate change plan in particular would not be progressive enough.
Despite progressives' criticism, Biden has swiftly emerged as the mushrooming primary field's pacesetter as the race heats up, topping every national poll since he announced his White House bid last month and hauling in millions of dollars in donations.
With Biden's focus squarely on the general election, the only Democrat he mentioned was his ace in the hole, former President Barack Obama, whose association he flaunted to add an extra jab at Trump.
"President Trump inherited an economy from the Obama-Biden administration that was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life. Just like everything else he's been given in his life, he's in the process of squandering that as well," Biden said.
Shortly after Biden ended his speech, he sent an email to supporters saying, "Now it's time to get to work."