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Biden says the fight for democracy is at the heart of his 2024 rematch with Trump

Ahead of his speech, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a small wreath-laying ceremony at the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park on Jan. 5, 2024.
Mandel Ngan
/
AFP via Getty Images
Ahead of his speech, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended a small wreath-laying ceremony at the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park on Jan. 5, 2024.

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — President Biden used his first campaign event of 2024 to call out his likely opponent, former President Donald Trump, for the threat he poses to American democracy, calling the issue a 'sacred cause' for the race ahead.

"Today we are here to answer the most important of questions: Is democracy still America's sacred cause?" Biden said. "It is what the 2024 election is all about."

Biden focused on the events that took place just ahead of his inauguration, three years ago, when Trump — refusing to concede that he had lost the election to Biden — rallied supporters near the National Mall.

Hundreds of the Trump supporters then violently stormed the U.S. Capitol where lawmakers were formalizing the election results in what the FBI classified as an act of domestic terrorism.

Biden described how Trump watched the riot unfold on television. "It was among the worst derelictions of duty by a president in American history," he said.

"It was on that day that we nearly lost America, lost it all," Biden said.

President Biden speaks at a community college near Valley Forge, Pa., on Jan. 5, 2024, his first campaign event of the year.
Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks at a community college near Valley Forge, Pa., on Jan. 5, 2024, his first campaign event of the year.

Trump has been unwilling to condemn the attack, and has said that if he is elected he would pardon rioters who have been convicted for their actions on that day.

"Donald Trump's campaign is about him, not America, not you. Donald Trump's campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He's willing to sacrifice our democracy," Biden said.

Biden chose Valley Forge as a backdrop for the speech

Biden gave his remarks at a community college near Valley Forge, the site where Gen. George Washington and his troops spent the winter of 1777 as the British occupied Philadelphia, then the U.S. capital.

Biden said Washington was a shining example of how Americans presidents return power to the people once their time in office is up.

Valley Forge is also in Pennsylvania, one of the key swing states expected to decide the outcome of the 2024 presidential race.

Polls show voters are concerned about Biden's age, and his approval ratings have languished. But polls also show that voters are concerned about threats to democracy — concerns that Biden tapped in a series of speeches ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, where Democrats performed better than expected.

Biden met with historians before this event

As he prepared to kick off the year, Biden met privately this week with a group of historians at the White House this week, and sought their opinions on the threats to democracy ahead of his speech.

Biden is also preparing for a second event on Monday, in Charleston, S.C. There, Biden will speak at the Mother Emanuel AME Churchin Charleston, S.C. where a white supremacist killed nine people in 2015.

Princeton University history Sean Wilentz was part of the meeting with Biden. Wilentz said concerns about political violence and the threats to democracy supersede economic and other social issues.

"None of it means anything if we lose if we lose the republic," Wilentz told NPR. "Really, it's what the American Revolution was all about."

Wilentz said there's a danger in dismissing Trump's authoritarian rhetoric as showmanship.

"Biden's like me: he's an old man. We've been around a long time, the two of us," he said, recalling backlash to the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

"We were all part of that. And so maybe we have a sensitivity to it that's special, that comes from experience," he said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.