White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed Thursday that President Biden’s primetime address on “the battle for the soul of the nation” is “not a political speech” — before releasing excerpts showing Biden will slam “MAGA forces” allied with former President Donald Trump.
Biden will “call out what is happening in this moment” and take aim at “MAGA officeholders,” Jean-Pierre said as she fended off reporter questions about whether the speech will be divisive rather than unifying.
The 8 p.m. speech in Philadelphia, which will be carried live by many TV outlets, will feature Biden talking “about what we can do, can be done right now to beat back the forces that are threatening — that are threatening us,” Jean-Pierre said at her regular briefing.
About two hours after Jean-Pierre walked off the podium, her office released excerpts of Biden’s prepared remarks, showing he will say, “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards. Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”
MAGA is shorthand for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” political mantra.
But the press secretary maintained that there was nothing political about the rare primetime address and that it doesn’t clash with Biden’s 2020 campaign vow to seek out political unity among Republicans and Democrats.
“There is a growing number of people who refuse to accept the results of free and fair elections, people who actually openly talk about subverting elections in the future,” Jean-Pierre said. “This is not a speech where he’s going to tell people to vote for one party or the other.
“He’s going to talk about uniting the people of this country who believe in equality and democracy.”
“Is tonight a political speech?” Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked.
“No, it’s not a political speech. This is an opportunity again, for the president to directly have a conversation with the American people,” Jean-Pierre said.
“Look, he’s going to talk about — of course he’ll talk about the importance of engagement. He’ll talk about voter participation. But this is a speech about a — such a broader subject: What it means to be a democracy and what it means to participate in our democracy.”
Mason followed up, noting that some advocates “on the left are very happy about the more aggressive tone they’re seeing from the president,” but that Biden’s “facing some criticism” that the “aggressive tone is also stoking the divisiveness that he’s trying to heal.”
“The president’s never going to shy away from calling out what he sees,” Jean-Pierre countered.
“We understand we hit a nerve. We get that. We understand that they’re trying to hide, and we understand that ultra-MAGA officeholders want to play games here and dodge accountability for their extreme proposals and action,” she continued.
“But they’re just telling on themselves. Look, the president has always always squarely targeted his his criticism on the elected leaders. This is about what they’re doing in Congress, those extreme MAGA Republicans who who are, who hold office.”
Last week, the president said support for his predecessor, who is openly considering a 2024 White House run, amounts to “semi-fascism,” while Republicans leaders slammed Biden for what they called an attack on the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in 2020.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was due to give a prebuttal of Biden’s speech from Scranton, Pa,. earlier Thursday evening.
“President Biden has chosen to divide, demean and disparage his fellow Americans — simply because they disagree with his policies,” McCarthy’s prepared remarks read.
“When the president speaks tonight at Independence Hall, the first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as ‘fascists,’” they add.
Jean-Pierre sidestepped a reporter’s inquiry Thursday about whether Biden will mention Trump or any Republican politicians by name or if he also will rebuke far-left extremism.
Biden will focus on “the extreme part of the Republican Party — and we’re talking about [how] they want a nationwide ban on abortions. They want to give tax cuts to billionaires and corporations while raising taxes on middle class Americans. They are threatening political violence and they are attacking our democracy,” she said.
“And so the president is going to take this time to talk to the American people who — the majority agree with him on — and talk about, you know, how can we continue to fight for our democracy and do it in an optimistic way.”
“I’ve said this before, the president’s never going to shy away from talking about his predecessor,” Jean-Pierre also said. “But it’s not a speech about the former president or about a single politician or about a political party.”
Yet another reporter noted that Jean-Pierre had mentioned Biden’s “concern about this MAGA Republican, this extremist agenda, and that’s something he’s gonna talk about tonight. How is that not a political speech?”
“He’s not going to shy away from the extremism that we see today,” the press secretary answered. “But, again, there’s a broader component of the speech.”
NBC reporter Kelly O’Donnell asked Jean-Pierre if there was anything in the speech intended to appeal to Americans who “may still support the former president,” but Jean-Pierre demurred.
“When we talk about the extremism, we’re talking about a very small piece, component of the American public. All right?” she said. “We’re talking about a very small component of, MAGA Republicans in Congress, that is something that they believe, right? But we know the president believes and is optimistic that there are many, many Americans who want to continue to make sure that we uphold our democracy.”