Biden, in Pennsylvania, touts gun control and hits Republicans


WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — President Biden on Tuesday pushed for an assault weapons ban while harshly criticizing Republicans who defend the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, continuing his recent pattern of castigating GOP leaders in advance of the midterm elections.

Two days before he is scheduled to deliver a major speech on the fight for democracy, Biden assailed congressional “MAGA Republicans” who have refused to condemn the insurrection. He took aim at a Republican senator who recently predicted an outbreak of violence if former president Donald Trump is criminally charged, and he condemned recent threats and violence against the FBI as that agency reviews documents seized from Trump’s residence.

“Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress,” Biden said. “Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened Jan. 6. Can’t do it. For God’s sake, whose side are you on?”

The president also slammed a recent comment from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) that there would be “riots in the street” if federal prosecutors charge Trump for taking classified government documents to his home after leaving office.

“I don’t expect politics to be patty cake. …” Biden said. “But the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such-and-such happens, there will be blood in the street’? Where the hell are we?”

There will be ‘riots in the street’ if Trump is prosecuted, Graham says

Biden’s comments came days after an event in Rockville, Md., where he charged that much of the Republican Party is turning toward “semi-fascism.” Together with Tuesday’s remarks and his upcoming speech, the shift in Biden’s rhetoric makes it clear he hopes to deliver a midterm message that the GOP is increasingly embracing authoritarian tendencies.

Republican leaders respond that Biden is making reckless charges in an effort to shift voters’ attention from persistent inflation and Democrats’ liberal policies. “The agenda of Biden Democrats has left Pennsylvania communities less safe, and this is why Pennsylvanians will be voting for a new direction in November,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

On Tuesday, Biden also criticized calls from Republicans to “defund the FBI” in light of the bureau’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, saying that he is as opposed to “defunding the FBI” as to defunding the police. “It’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the lives of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their jobs,” he said.

The spirited address was the first of Biden’s three visits in the next week to Pennsylvania, where Democrats face crucial races for governor and U.S. Senate. Biden plans to deliver his prime-time address in Philadelphia on Thursday and visit Pittsburgh on Monday to recognize Labor Day.

In his speech Thursday, Biden is expected to argue that U.S. democracy faces a perilous moment and that citizens’ freedoms are under attack. That address has been in the works for weeks, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. White House officials planned the speech as part of Biden’s broader argument ahead of the midterms.

But he will take a different tack Thursday than he did in his fiery address in Maryland last week. While that event was a campaign rally, Thursday’s speech will be closer to a stately presidential address.

The tone is expected to be similar to the speech Biden delivered at the U.S. Capitol on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the person said. In that talk, Biden accused the “former president” of undermining American democracy and spreading “a web of lies about the 2020 election.”

Biden’s advisers have concluded that his words resonate more widely when he is more explicit in his criticism of Trump. Biden is expected to call out Trump directly Thursday, but aides say it is unlikely he will name specific Republican congressional candidates who have repeated the former president’s false talking points about the 2020 election.

Advisers cautioned that the speech is still being finalized and could change, but said the aim is a sober, blunt assessment of the threats to election integrity and the rule of law.

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Political fights over election integrity are likely to come into sharper focus this fall in the lead-up to midterm elections where control of Congress is up for grabs. Democrats are particularly eyeing Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) is vying for a U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Patrick J. Toomey, and where Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, has embraced falsehoods about the 2020 election.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), who is running against Mastriano, appeared alongside Biden on Tuesday to tout his work as the state’s top law enforcement official. Bemoaning a national shortage of police officers, Shapiro called on Pennsylvania officials to fund at least 2,000 new law enforcement positions across the swing state.

“We know that policing is a noble profession, and we know we need to stand with law enforcement,” he said.

Biden urged the crowd to support Shapiro, whom he called “a champion for the rule of law,” and Fetterman, who he said is “a powerful voice for working people.”

Throughout his speech, Biden emphasized his support for additional funding for law enforcement, part of an effort to respond to GOP criticism of some activists’ calls to “defund the police.” Biden’s “Safer America Plan” to combat crime includes hiring 100,000 new officers across the country.

The public’s trust in police is frayed, Biden said, a rupture that threatens people’s safety. Without that, victims don’t call for help,” he said. “Witnesses don’t step forward. Crimes go unsolved.”

In a moment that drew raucous applause, Biden called for a national ban on assault weapons. He referred to the 1994 assault weapons ban that he pushed through the Senate and that Congress let lapse in 2004. Mass shootings declined while the law was in effect, Biden said.

Biden said he owns two shotguns and does not oppose gun ownership, but he added that there is no good reason for civilians to have assault weapons.

“My dad used to love to hunt in the Poconos when we lived in Scranton,” Biden said. “How many deer are wearing Kevlar vests, huh?”

He also recalled visiting Uvalde, Texas, after a gunman slaughtered 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school there in May. He said some parents had to supply their DNA to identify their children because the Daniel Defense DDM4 Rifle that the shooter used had shredded some of the bodies beyond recognition.

“DNA to say, ‘That’s my baby,’” Biden said, raising his voice. “What the hell’s the matter with us?”

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