President Joe Biden on Wednesday delivered a warning that American democracy is under assault from election deniers who are running for office at all levels as he tries to make defending democracy a top issue in next week’s midterm elections.
“This intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans and non-partisan officials just doing their jobs, is the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol and even violence,” Biden said. “In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth, the very future of our nation depends on it.”
The speech – a political event hosted by the DNC, not the White House – underscored the points Biden has been making for weeks since a prime time speech in Philadelphia. That address, which covered many of the same topics that the president touched on Wednesday night, was criticized by Republicans and others for being too political for an official White House event.
The setting of the speech near Capitol Hill is meant to reference the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol building intended to interrupt the certification of Biden’s win.
Advisers to the president tell CNN that Biden and his team had been contemplating giving a speech on this very topic for some time – but that their decision-making and thinking in recent days have been shaped by what they’ve viewed as a surge in anti-democratic rhetoric and threats of violence.
One recent headline in particular that has deeply alarmed Biden and his top advisers: the violent attack against Paul Pelosi last week that authorities say was politically motivated.
The shocking home intrusion and attack on Pelosi landed the 82-year-old in the hospital for surgery, and he has since been recovering from a skull fracture, among other injuries.
Advisers said ahead of the speech that Biden felt that it would be important for him to directly condemn these kinds of threats and acts of violence. He will also want to speak directly to election deniers, they said, in an effort to counter, in part, Republican elected officials and candidates who have openly said they may refuse to accept the results of the upcoming election next week.
The theme of protecting the soul of the nation – and the pillars of the country’s democratic system – were central to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. The President has since spoken about these topics throughout his presidency, but Wednesday’s speech will mark an effort to emphatically underscore what is at stake heading into the midterms.
Defense of democracy has been an animating feature of Biden’s thinking this political season and has emerged more abundantly in his off-camera conversations with Democrats. The day before his speech in Washington, Biden warned a group of Democratic donors in Florida that “democracy is on the ballot” this year – and offered something of a preview of his message for a day later.
“How can you say that you in fact care about democracy when you deny the existence of a win? The only way you could win is either you win or the other guy cheated,” he said at the event, held in an oceanfront backyard of a mansion in Golden Beach, Florida.
“This has not happened since the Civil War. It sounds like hyperbole, but it hadn’t happened since then, as bad as it is now,” he said.
Biden’s Civil War reference hardly appeared coincidental; he was seen this week carrying a copy of historian Jon Meacham’s new book, “And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle,” which explores how America’s 16th president confronted secession and threats to democracy.
Meacham is an informal adviser to Biden and has helped write some of his most high-profile speeches.
In his remarks at the Florida fundraiser, Biden noted the attack on Paul Pelosi and said it was hardly surprising given Republicans’ rhetoric. The attack on the husband of the House speaker is one of the reasons Biden decided to deliver Wednesday’s speech, officials said, though plans had been in the works for a while.
“Look at the response – the so-called response — from Republicans, making jokes about it and/or saying, ‘Well, you know, it’s not because of what’s being said and not said,’” Biden said of the assault.
“The reason why people are doing what they’re doing – there’s a lot of unstable people in a population as large as ours. When they hear every single day these outrageous lies – these outrageous lies across the board about everything,” Biden said.
“How can you be surprised?” he asked. “The guy purchases a hammer to kneecap the No. 3 in line to be President of the United States of America – No. 2 in line, I should say, to be the … president of the United States of America. And nobody on that party condemns it for exactly what it is.”
Biden previously laid out the stakes two months ago, traveling to Philadelphia, where he delivered an urgent rebuke of former President Donald Trump and those aligned with his attempts to undermine democracy.
“As I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault,” Biden said at the time. “We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.”
Biden starkly warned at the time about what he called “an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”