WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — (AP) — President Joe Biden railed Tuesday against “MAGA Republicans in Congress” who refused to condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol and are now targeting the FBI as he tried to portray the Democrats as the true pro-law enforcement party ahead of the November midterms.
In remarks originally framed as a crime prevention speech, Biden seized on comments from allies of former President Donald Trump who have called for FBI funding to be withdrawn since he executed a search warrant at the residence. of Trump in Florida. Biden’s remarks were the first substantive defense he has made of the FBI since the Aug. 8 raid on Mar-a-Lago, which sparked not only harsh criticism of the agency, but also threats of violence against his employees.
“It’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the lives of law enforcement and their families, for simply enforcing the law and doing their job,” Biden told a crowd of more than 500. people at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. “I am opposed to defunding the police; I am also opposed to the defunding of the FBI.
It was a particularly different approach for Biden, who has avoided commenting at length on any part of the Justice Department’s investigation since federal agents conducted the search of Trump’s estate. Biden also appeared to call out — without naming him — recent comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., who warned of “rioting in the streets” if Trump ultimately faces lawsuits.
“The idea that you turn on a television and see senators and congressmen say, ‘If such and such happens, there will be blood in the street’?” Biden said. “Where the hell are we?”
Tuesday’s speech continued Biden’s aggressive rhetoric against the GOP ahead of midterms, as Democrats enjoy a slightly brighter political environment, buoyed by significant legislative achievements and a presidential approval rating that has edged down slightly. increase. At a political rally in suburban Washington last week, Biden compared Republican ideology to “semi-fascism.” He is set to deliver a democracy-focused speech in Philadelphia on Thursday that the White House says will “clarify” who is fighting for democratic values.
As he has done before, Biden on Tuesday criticized GOP officials who refused to name pro-Trump rioters who raped the U.S. Capitol nearly 20 months ago. Referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Biden said, “Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you don’t condemn what happened on the 6th.
The campaign-style speech near Biden’s birthplace was the president’s first of three visits in less than a week to the state that is home to a competitive gubernatorial race and a U.S. Senate contest that could help determine whether the Democrats will retain their majority in the chamber. Trump is holding his own rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.
Democrats believe Pennsylvania is their best opportunity to overthrow a Senate seat currently held by Republicans. Meanwhile, the open race for governor will give the winner the power over how the 2024 presidential election plays out in a battleground state that is still rocked by Trump’s baseless claims that Democrats fraudulently robbed him of the 2020 election.
Biden’s comments about the FBI come as his son Hunter faces a federal investigation for tax evasion. He has not faced any charges and he has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The president also used his remarks Tuesday to promote his administration’s crime prevention efforts and to continue to pressure Congress to reinstate a long-expired federal ban on assault weapons. Democrats and Republicans worked together in a rare effort to pass gun safety legislation earlier this year after the massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. These were the first major restrictions on firearms approved by Congress in nearly three decades, but Biden has repeatedly said more needs to be done.
“We beat the NRA. We took them on and beat the NRA straight up. You have no idea how intimidating they are for elected officials,” an animated Biden said. “We don’t stop there. I am determined to ban assault weapons in this country! Determined. I already did it once. And I will do it again.
As a U.S. senator, Biden played a leading role in temporarily banning assault weapons, including AR-15-like firearms that have exploded in popularity in recent years, and he wants restore the law. Biden argued there was no justification for such weapons “outside of a war zone” and noted that parents of young victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde had to provide DNA because the weapon used in the massacre rendered the bodies unidentifiable.
“DNA, to say it’s my baby!” Biden said. “What’s wrong with us?”
Democrats are trying to blunt Republican efforts to use crime concerns to their medium-term advantage. It’s a particularly difficult problem in Pennsylvania, a key hub state.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano accuses Democrat Josh Shapiro of being soft on crime as the twice-elected state attorney general, saying Shapiro is “standing on the sidelines” as the homicides are increasing throughout Pennsylvania.
Homicides have increased in Pennsylvania, but overall crime appears to have declined over the past year, according to state statistics.
“The real heroes here are the people who put on the uniform every day,” said Shapiro, who spoke shortly before Biden’s remarks at Wilkes University. “We know that policing is a noble profession, and we know that we must stand together with law enforcement.”
In the U.S. Senate race, heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee, tried to paint the Democratic nominee, Lt. Governor John Fetterman, as extreme and reckless when it comes to criminal policy.
Fetterman endorsed recommendations that more geriatric and rehabilitated prisoners can be released from state prisons without harming public safety. Oz and the Republicans have twisted this by saying that Fetterman wants to free “dangerous criminals” from prisons or that he is in favor of “emptying the prisons”.
Fetterman’s campaign released a new 30-second ad on Tuesday highlighting that Fetterman — as mayor of the impoverished western Pennsylvania steel town of Braddock from 2006 to 2018 — dealt with street-level crime , and Oz did not. In the ad, Fetterman said he ran for mayor ‘to stop the violence’ after two of his students in an after-school program were murdered and ‘worked side by side with the police’ .
Fetterman was not in Wilkes-Barre with Biden on Tuesday, but he is expected to march in the Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh when the president visits Sept. 5. Biden will also be in Pennsylvania on Thursday for a primetime speech that the White House says will address “the ongoing battle for the soul of the nation” and defend democracy.
Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Kim reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
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