Biden accomplished several essential tasks. First, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats earlier Sunday, he formulated that the open seat boils down to preserving the Affordable Care Act. “In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is before the Supreme Court trying to strip health-care coverage away from tens of millions of families. This took away the peace of mind of more than 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions,” Biden said. “If he succeeds, insurers could once again discriminate or drop coverage completely for people living with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes, cancer and so many other problems.” The former vice president continued that “if Donald Trump has his way, the complications from covid-19 … like lung scarring and heart damage, could become the next deniable preexisting condition.” Biden did mention other issues such as abortion and voting rights, but plainly he is folding the fight over the court seat into the two best issues for him — Trump’s failure to handle the pandemic and his attempts to take away health-care coverage.
Second, he put the fight in simple terms of fairness. Republicans think they can make up rules and rewrite them for their benefit without regard to — indeed, despite — majority opinion. Bullying your way through fights with nonsensical blather to disguise your motives is antithetical to democracy. Biden stressed over and over again that voting is already underway, which means Trump is disenfranchising voters who want a say in the next justice.
Third, Biden made the most of his ability to appeal to the most persuadable senators while sending a message to moderates and disaffected Republicans that he intends to end the cycle of inflammatory partisanship. “I’m not speaking to President Trump, who will do whatever he wants. I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who will do what he wants, and he does,” Biden said, acknowledging these men are beyond reason and utterly shameless. “I’m speaking to those Republicans out there, Senate Republicans, who know deep down what is right for the country … not just what’s best for their party.” That would be Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and any others with a speck of intellectual honesty:
To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power, and I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it. President Trump has already made it clear this is about power. Pure and simple. … Action and reaction. Anger and more anger. Sorrow and frustration at the way things are in this country now politically. That’s the cycle that Republican senators will continue to perpetuate if they go down this dangerous path they have put us on.We need to de-escalate — not escalate. That’s why I appeal to those few Senate Republicans — the handful who will really decide what happens. Please, follow your conscience. Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Don’t go there. Uphold your constitutional duty — your conscience. Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.
That message, delivered in sober and quiet terms, is one that less partisan Americans are hungering for. “We can’t keep rewriting history, scrambling norms, ignoring our cherished system of checks and balances,” Biden said. That’s precisely what voters who want to end the downward spiral of incendiary politics want to hear. Here is someone who understands that authoritarian power plays tear the country apart.
Toward the end of his remarks, Biden again drove that message home, promising relief from the insane, mean-spirited partisanship Trump has adopted. “I’ve said it many times in this election. We are the United States of America. There’s nothing we cannot do if we do it together,” he said. “Donald Trump wants to divide this nation between red states and blue states. Between representing those states that vote for him and ignoring those that don’t. I do not, I cannot, I will not be that president. I’ll be a president for the whole country. For those who vote for me and those who who vote against me. We need to rise to this moment, for the sake of our country we love.”
Fourth, Biden gave the best explanation for why presidents should not resort to lists of judges, pointing out that this Trump gimmick is also an assault on our democratic norms. “First, putting a judge’s name on a list like that could influence that person’s decision-making as a judge — and that would be wrong.” In addition to setting the nominee up for “unrelenting political attacks” without the ability to respond, putting together a list unilaterally violates the fundamental process of advice and consent. “Only after consulting Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate — and seeking their advice and asking for the consent,” Biden said. “I will consult with senators in both parties about that pick, as well as the legal and civic leaders. In the end, the choice will be mine and mine alone, but I will consult. But it will be the product of a process that restores our finest traditions — not the extension of one that has torn this country apart.”
Finally, he signaled quietly to the left that Republicans’ chicanery will not stand. Liberals over the weekend poured out their grief, anger and defiance as they honored their icon, donating millions, gathering at memorials and vowing to fight for RBG as she fought for them. “That moment is now for the voters to get a chance to be heard — and their voice should be heard. And I believe voters are going to make it clear — they will not stand for this abuse of power,” he said. “There’s no discussion about what happens if the Senate confirms — on eve of election — or in a lame duck after Donald Trump loses — a successor to Justice Ginsburg.” He need not make the argument that the consequences will be far worse for Republicans than failure to steal another seat; activists, pundits and Democratic candidates can do that. With an open seat, however, Biden can seal the deal with ex-supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who now understand the stakes and Biden’s ability to prevent their worst nightmares from coming to fruition. When he says that “this nation will continue to be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but we should not only be inspired by her, we should be guided by her,” the left hears that they must fight like RBG, with tenacity and purpose.
In short, Biden managed to appeal both to the left and the exhausted middle of the electorate. He framed the issue as one of fairness and of the ACA’s survival. And he made clear that responsibility for further destruction of our system rests with Republicans, who can choose to pull back. In many ways, it was the most intricate and multilayered speech of his career. It certainly was the most presidential.