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Biden to deliver prime-time address on democracy Thursday

The speech, one of Biden’s few in prime time, reaffirms his rhetorical shift to a greater stress on the threat to democratic values

President Biden, seen here during a speech in Philadelphia in March, is returning to the city for a prime-time address. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Biden will deliver a prime-time address Thursday on the fight for democracy in America and “the continued battle for the soul of the nation,” a White House official said Monday, an address that is likely to confirm his growing rhetorical emphasis on the anti-democratic forces he sees as capturing much of the Republican Party.

Speaking at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park, the president is expected to highlight his administration’s achievements and argue that the country’s democratic values will be at stake during the midterm elections.

“He will talk about the progress we have made as a nation to protect our democracy, but how our rights and freedoms are still under attack,” the official said. “He will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms, and fighting for our democracy.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the content of the speech.

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Biden in recent days has adopted a message for the midterm elections that includes fiery denunciations of what he calls the authoritarian strains in the Republican Party, notably during a speech last Thursday saying many in the GOP had turned toward “semi-fascism.” He added that the “MAGA Republicans,” as he called them, “embrace political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”

President Biden accused Trump-allied Republicans of embracing violence and hatred at an Aug. 25 rally for the Democratic National Committee in Rockville, Md. (Video: Reuters)

While Biden has touched on such themes before, the full-throated nature of the speech was a change from a message that had more often stressed his legislative accomplishments.

Thursday’s speech is not billed as a political event, and given its character as a prime-time presidential address, Biden may avoid some of his sharper denunciations.

The need to restore America’s basic values, including democracy and the rule of law, has been a theme of Biden’s presidency from the beginning. He has cited it as the reason he decided to run in 2020, describing his horror at the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017, and President Donald Trump’s comment afterward that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Biden at times has suggested a central way to combat anti-democratic forces is to show that democracy and governing can work. That prompted some Democrats to complain that he was shying away from forcefully denouncing Trump and other Republicans who falsely claimed the last election was rigged and who may be laying the groundwork to challenge future legitimate elections.

But now Biden appears to be seeking to meld the two messages — saying “MAGA Republicans” are trying to destroy democracy, and Democrats and traditional Republicans are getting things done.

Biden has delivered few prime-time addresses during his presidency, often preferring to make less formal remarks at less prominent times. In delivering Thursday’s speech at Independence park, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were debated and signed, Biden is continuing his pattern of using symbolic backdrops when he seeks to make a broader statement.

During the campaign, for example, Biden spoke at Gettysburg, using the historic Civil War battlefield to deplore “the cost of division” and saying, “We must come together as a nation.” He also spoke at Warm Springs, Ga., whose therapeutic waters were a frequent destination for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And last year, Biden visited Tulsa to commemorate the racial attacks that killed as many as 300 Black Americans a century earlier.

Biden, throughout his career, has also used speeches as a way to mark major moments, viewing them as a way to organize his own thoughts and galvanize supporters around a particular cause either from the Senate floor or, in this case, one of the nation’s most hallowed grounds dedicated to democracy.

Philadelphia has been a favorite location for Biden, not far from his childhood home in Scranton or his current home in Delaware. He announced his 2020 presidential bid in the city, noting the significance of standing in the birthplace of American democracy. His campaign was headquartered there, and he returned to Philadelphia shortly before the election.

Biden again visited the city last year to deliver remarks on the importance of protecting the right to vote.

Matt Viser contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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