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Biden evokes McCain’s memory as he warns of Trump’s threat to democracy

Biden evokes McCain’s memory as he warns of Trump’s threat to democracy

Joe Biden made the case that preserving American institutions should not be a partisan issue. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

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TEMPE, Ariz. — President Joe Biden on Thursday declared that America must overcome new tests to its democracy, delivering his clearest warnings yet about what he believes is at stake in his coming reelection campaign against the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Biden selected Arizona — a state where the former president attempted to challenge the 2020 election results and considered a major battleground again next year — as the setting for his fourth major speech on protecting democracy. It is also home to the late Sen. John McCain, who Biden has pointed to as an example of what the Republican Party used to stand for before Trump was elected. Biden centered his speech around McCain’s legacy to make the case that preserving American institutions should not be a partisan issue. The president is fond of saying that McCain, a vocal Trump critic who died in 2018, would put patriotism before party — and he expressed concern that too many members of the senator’s Republican Party would instead pledge their loyalty to Trump over the Constitution. “For John, it was country first,” said Biden. “All of us are being asked right now what we will do to maintain our democracy? We will put a partnership aside and put country first? I say we must. And we will.” Hitting on familiar themes and recalling the legacy of his late friend, Biden stressed that the nation should “not walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend our democracy.” “We have to stand up for America’s values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t,” Biden said. “We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t.” That was one factor that pushed Biden to deliver another speech on the need to protect the nation’s democracy. The topic has also featured prominently in his remarks at recent closed-door fundraisers, including several in the past week in California and New York. In those more relaxed, off-camera settings, Biden has warned that “democracy is on the ballot” and has taken a series of his most direct swipes at Trump yet. He did the same in Arizona. He invoked Trump’s name only once but spent the bulk of his speech clearly outlining the danger the former president poses. “There is something dangerous happening in America,” Biden said. “There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. The MAGA Movement.” Biden rattled over the warning signs: the erosion of trust of democratic institutions; election denialism, the banning of books. He then warned against the GOP frontrunner’s stated agenda for a second term, which includes an expansion of presidential power, the destruction of the federal bureaucracy and Trump’s declaration that he would be his followers’ “retribution.” Biden also called out Trump’s recent declarations that Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be tried for treason. Biden’s comments come a day after the second Republican primary debate, during which candidates took a handful of swipes at Trump — who skipped the event altogether — but seemed to fail to make a meaningful dent in his clear path to the nomination. As the general election comes into clearer focus, Biden aides are betting that homing in on democracy will buoy the president’s campaign, especially after a spasm of political violence and threats to election integrity have shocked the American system in recent years.

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