President Biden targets ‘extremist movement’ in speech; honors late Sen. John McCain in Tempe

During a speech in Tempe, President Joe Biden issued a dire warning claiming that Donald Trump and his allies are a menace to democracy.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 7:50 AM MST|Updated: Sep. 28, 2023 at 4:47 PM MST
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PHOENIX (AP) — President Joe Biden is arguing that “there is something dangerous happening in America” as he revives his warnings that Donald Trump and his allies represent an existential threat to the country’s democratic institutions.

“There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA movement,” Biden says in excerpts of the speech Thursday in Arizona, released in advance by the White House, referring to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.

Although voting in the 2024 Republican primary doesn’t begin for months, Biden’s focus reflects Trump’s status as the undisputed frontrunner for his party’s nomination despite facing four indictments, two of them related to his attempts to overturn Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Biden’s speech is his fourth in a series of presidential addresses on the topic, a cause that is a touchstone for him as he tries to remain in office even in the face of low approval ratings and widespread concern from voters about his age, 80.

He’s also facing fresh pressure on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans are holding the first hearing in their impeachment inquiry.

On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, Biden visited the Capitol and accused Trump of continuing to hold a “dagger” at democracy’s throat. Biden closed out the summer that year in the shadow of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, decrying Trumpism as a menace to democratic institutions.

And in November, as voters were casting ballots in the midterm elections, Biden again sounded a clarion call to protect democratic institutions.

The location for Thursday’s speech, as was the case for the others, was chosen for effect. It will be near Arizona State University, which houses the McCain Institute, named after the late Arizona Sen. John McCain — a friend of Biden and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who spent his public life denouncing autocrats around the globe.

“I have come to honor the McCain Institute and Library because they are home to a proud Republican who put country first,” Biden says in the excerpts. “Our commitment should be no less because democracy should unite all Americans – regardless of political affiliation.”

Mid-speech, he got yelled at by a heckler. “Sorry to interrupt Mr. President... but ask Why have you yet to declare an emergency?... Hundreds of Arizonans have died,” the protestor shouted at the president mid-speech. “You promised no new drilling on fossil fuels, why have you yet to declare a climate emergency? We need your leadership,” he said before being escorted out.

The late senator’s wife, Cindy McCain, said the library, still to be built, is the result of bipartisan support from Biden, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and her predecessor, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. “President Biden has been a longtime friend, tough political opponent and strong leader,” Cindy McCain said in a statement. “All traits that my husband, John, also possessed.”

As Biden has tried to do in the past, Thursday’s speech is designed to avoid alienating moderate Republicans while confronting the spread of anti-democratic rhetoric. “Not every Republican -– not even the majority of Republicans –- adhere to the extremist MAGA ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with Republicans my whole career,” Biden says. “But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA extremists.”

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