President Joe Biden warned of extremism and threats to US democracy in remarks in Arizona on Thursday, where he was also honoring his friend, the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
“There’s something dangerous happening in America now,” Biden said, arguing that the far-right movement within the Republican party was out of step with the “basic beliefs of our democracy.”
The stark message was Biden’s most forceful attempt at calling out Trump’s antidemocratic behavior since the former president was criminally charged for his attempts to subvert the 2020 election results.
It offered a taste of Biden’s forthcoming reelection message, one centered on Trump’s own words and actions as threats to democracy. Biden said his predecessor was guided not by the Constitution or decency, but by “vengeance and vindictiveness.”
Here are some of the key themes:
Republican silence: Biden referenced his most likely GOP challenger by name, saying, “Trump says the Constitution gave him the right to do whatever he wants as president.”
“I’ve never heard presidents say that in jest,” he added.
He alluded to Trump’s recent suggestion that Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could be executed, and said Republican silence on the comment was “deafening.”
“We should all remember: Democracies don’t have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up,” Biden said.
Violence: Stopping the erosion of democratic institutions and values was central to Biden’s decision to run for president in 2020, and campaign officials have said it will once again be core to his reelection bid.
“I believe in free and fair elections and peaceful transfer of power. I believe there’s no place in America — none, none, none — for political violence,” Biden said Thursday.
Setting aside partisanship: In his speech, Biden called on Americans to “put partisanship aside, put country first.”
At that moment, he was interrupted by climate activists. A protester stood up and called on Biden to take further action to address fossil fuels.
“I tell you what, if you shush up, I’ll meet with you immediately after this,” Biden said, before resuming remarks. (A protester later said on social media that they were escorted off the grounds and did not meet with the president.)
“Democracy is never easy – as we just demonstrated,” Biden joked.
A solution to threats: The answer to overcoming the threats facing America’s democracy is engagement, the president said, and the preservation of the country’s institutions will be up to the next generation.
“The answer to the threats we face is the engagement. It’s not to sit on the sidelines. It’s to build coalitions and community. To remind ourselves there’s a clear majority of us who believe in our democracy and are ready to protect,” Biden said, encouraging young people to get out and vote.