Biden warns against threats to democracy and says Americans must speak out

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Updated September 28, 2023 at 4:15 PM ET

WASHINGTON (NPR) — President Biden on Thursday said democracy in America is at risk, and urged Americans of all political backgrounds to recommit to support the Constitution and democratic institutions.

“We know how damaged our institutions of democracy — our judiciary, the legislature, the executive — have become in the eyes of the American people, even the world, from attacks within, the past few years,” Biden said, citing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of his predecessor Donald Trump.

“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 or condemn threats to democracy,” Biden said.

The speech created a split-screen moment

The Phoenix speech marked a return to a theme that Biden said is central to his 2024 reelection campaign. It also created a split-screen moment, pitting his vision against a Republican party grappling with some serious internal divisions.

Biden’s speech came as House Republicans launched an impeachment inquiry panned for its lack of evidence — and careened toward an unpopular government shutdown sparked by intraparty disagreements over spending. Biden did not directly mention either the shutdown or the impeachment hearing in his remarks.

The speech also came the day after internal GOP fissures were on full display during a primary debate that the front-runner, former President Donald Trump, skipped in favor of doing his own event.

President Biden delivers remarks on democracy at a podium.
President Biden delivers remarks on democracy, his latest speech on an issue he says is central to his reelection campaign. [Evan Vucci | AP]

Polls show voters are concerned about threats to democracy

Biden’s approval ratings have been hurt by voters’ concerns about his age and the economy. But polls also show that voters are concerned about threats to democracy, particularly in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack.

Biden gave a trio of speeches dealing with the dangers facing democracy in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, where Democrats did better than expected.

In his speech, Biden focused on the threat he said is posed by the Make America Great Again ethos of Trump and his supporters. “There is something dangerous happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA movement,” Biden said.

Biden’s campaign on Thursday launched a new TV ad in seven swing states — including Arizona — featuring historical images of Biden with former President Ronald Reagan and a series of other Republicans, and highlighting Biden’s record of working on bipartisan legislation.

Biden paid tribute to the late Republican Sen. John McCain

Biden said most Republicans are not extremists, but he criticized the party for being “driven and intimidated” by Trump’s agenda.

In his remarks, Biden paid tribute to a Republican presidential candidate from another era — Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018.

He called McCain a “true patriot” and announced funding for the McCain Library, a new facility that will have health, education and work programs for underserved communities in Arizona.

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