President Joe Biden charged Republican allies of Donald Trump with undermining the country's democratic foundations and urged voters on Thursday to reject extremism ahead of midterm elections in November.
His attack, detailed in a draft speech released earlier in the day, was speedily and forcefully rebuked by GOP leaders who have accused "divider-in-chief" Biden and his supporters of dispensing their own brand of damaging, dangerous rhetoric.
Taking to the podium in prime time, Biden accused "MAGA forces" – those people devoted to Trump's Make America Great Again agenda – as willing to overturn democratic elections and "determined to take this country backwards" to a time without rights to abortion, privacy, contraception, or same-sex marriage supported broadly by Americans.
"Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," Biden said.
"As I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise."
The prime-time speech in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy, marked a sharp turn for Biden as midterm congressional elections approach.
The president is increasingly concerned about anti-democratic trends in the Republican Party, and sees a need to repel an onslaught by the party in November and recast the stakes of his own 2024 reelection bid, aides said.
After devoting much of his energy in 2022 to high inflation at home and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and enduring two bouts of COVID-19 over the summer, Biden has begun lashing out at Trump-aligned Republicans in recent days.
Thursday's remarks came after speeches in recent days where Biden condemned MAGA philosophy as "semi-fascism" and assailed Republican threats against the FBI after a search of Trump's Florida home as "sickening."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., accused Biden of ignoring crime and inflation to criticize his fellow citizens.
"Instead of trying to bring our country together to solve these challenges, President Biden has chosen to divide, demean and disparage his fellow Americans," McCarthy said in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. "Why? Simply because they disagree with his policies."
Earlier in the day, in reaction to Biden's draft remarks, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel released the following statement ahead of Joe Biden's divisive remarks in Philadelphia:
"Joe Biden's wretched attacks on millions of Americans have fueled attacks on pregnancy centers, Republican offices, and an assassination attempt on a Supreme Court Justice. His agenda has pitted neighbors against each other, rewarded the wealthy while punishing working families, and trampled on the rights and freedoms of Americans.
"Joe Biden is the divider-in-chief and epitomizes the current state of the Democrat Party: one of divisiveness, disgust, and hostility towards half the country."
A Democratic fundraiser said donors are closely watching Biden's performance over the next few months to gauge whether to back him in a 2024 presidential run. Some have already decided that Biden, 79, should step aside to make way for fresh leadership, while others want to see if he can move the needle.
"If we can pull it off and retain the Senate, then there will be enough voices saying he has earned it and pave the way for re-election," said a senior Democratic official. "If we don't, the overwhelming sentiment will be 'Pass the torch.'"
Biden set his remarks in a venue meant to signal the historical significance of his appeal, at Independence Hall, where the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution were adopted.
The speech echoed Biden's signature 2020 campaign pledge to restore the "soul of the nation" and, by implication, purge the values associated with Trump. In the nearly two years since Biden was elected, Republican voters have mostly backed candidates aligned with the former president; more than half say they believe Trump rightfully won the election.
Newsmax contributed to this report.
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