President Joe Biden, in a rare prime-time speech, condemned Donald Trump and his “MAGA Republicans” as he urged the nation to unite against threats to American democracy.
Biden took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. on Thursday at Independence Historical Park in Philadelphia, where several hundred people were sitting in white lawn chairs and Independence Hall’s facade was lit up in red and blue.
“This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated,” Biden said. “This is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self government the world has ever known.”
“But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault,” he continued. “We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise. So, tonight, I’ve come to this place where it all began, to speak as plainly as I can to the nation about the threats we face, about the power we have in our hands to meet these threats and about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it.”
The president mentioned his Oval Office predecessor by name as he assailed Republicans who refuse to accept the 2020 election results, defend those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 or want to strip away abortion rights and other privacy concerns.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal,” he said. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Biden made a distinction between the so-called MAGA Republicans and other conservatives, stating “not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology.”
“I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans,” he said. “But there’s no question that the Republican party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans and that is a threat to this country.”
Biden’s urgent rhetoric mirrors his 2020 messaging, in which he presented himself as a clear contrast to Trump and the race itself as an inflection point for the nation.
He made that comparison again Thursday, telling the crowd: “Now America must choose to move forward or to move backward, to build a future obsessed about the past, to be a nation of hope, unity, and optimism or a nation of fear, division and of darkness.”
Administration officials had teased Biden’s speech as an extension of his “soul of the nation” message, which first emerged in 2017 after white supremacists clashed with counter protesters in Charlottesville, West Virginia — the incident Biden said inspired him to run for president.
Biden on Thursday said all Americans are called by “duty and conscience to confront extremists” and to reject political violence.
“We are still at our core a democracy, and yet, history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy,” he said.
Biden’s appearance in Philadelphia is his second of three stops in the battleground state of Pennsylvania this week alone.
At Wilkes University, where made the case Tuesday for his administration’s plan for policing and crime prevention, Biden went after MAGA Republicans for their response to the Jan. 6 attack and the FBI search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
“For God’s sake, whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?” a fired-up Biden asked.
The GOP issued a preemptive rebuttal of Biden’s remarks, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking in Scranton (Biden’s hometown) just hours before the president took the stage in Philadelphia.
McCarthy criticized Democrats on inflation, crime and the border before demanding Biden “apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists” after the president previously described the ideology being adopted by MAGA Republicans as “semi-facism.”
“What Joe Biden doesn’t understand is that the soul of America is the tens of millions of hard working people, loving families, and law-abiding citizens whom he vilified for simply wanting a stronger, safer, and more prosperous country,” McCarthy said.
“The soul of America is not the ruling class in Washington, it is the law-abiding, tax-paying American citizen,” McCarthy said. “The soul of America is our determination to get up and go to work everyday, provide for our families, to love our children, be involved in their education and ensure that this nation and its people always come first.”
– ABC News’ Justin Gomez, Mary Bruce, Sarah Kolinovsky and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.