By WILL WEISSERT
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Joe Biden hasn’t announced a reelection campaign, but some of the themes likely to be the centerpiece of that expected run should be on display Friday night when he addresses a national Democratic Party meeting.
The president will focus on his administration’s accomplishments creating jobs and stimulating domestic manufacturing when he and Vice President Kamala Harris appear at a Democratic National Committee gathering in Philadelphia.
Before the speech, Biden will visit a water treatment plant and announce $160 million to upgrade Philadelphia water facilities and replace 20 miles of lead service lines — part of a larger effort to remove lead pipes around the country. An additional $340 million will go to upgrade the city’s water system.
Much of that funding comes from a bipartisan infrastructure package Congress passed in 2021 and is also bankrolling railway projects the president spent this week trumpeting.
With the State of the Union address coming next week, Biden has renewed calls for political unity, something he’s acknowledged being unable to achieve despite his promises to do so as a candidate in 2020. But those appeals can quickly pivot to broadsides against his predecessor, Donald Trump, and the Republican Party’s continued fealty to the former president’s “Make America Great Again” movement.
The DNC says Biden’s speech will highlight how Republicans are seeking to undermine the progress the president says has made during his first two years — a theme he’s already begun hitting.
“Look, this is not your father’s Republican Party,” the president said this week at a DNC fundraiser in New York. “This is a different breed of cat.”
He added, “I don’t know what’s gone haywire here” with the GOP. Going forward, he said, Democrats will “have to make clear that we’re not going to put up with MAGA Republicans.”
Biden is facing increasing pressure in Washington, where a special counsel is investigating how classified documents turned up in his home and a former office, and a Republican-controlled House is investigating everything from the administration’s immigration procedures at the U.S.-Mexico border to the overseas ties of the president’s son Hunter.
That’s made some top Democrats anxious to see Biden stay on the political offensive.
“The president is trying to solve the problems of the nation on infrastructure, on microchips, on gun safety, on health care, and I think he’s going to talk about doing that,” said Randi Weingarten, a DNC member and president of the American Federation of Teachers. “And then also compare (that) to the GOP, which seems to be on a revenge agenda.”
The president’s speech comes the day before the DNC is set to approve an overhauled presidential primary calendar starting next year that would replace Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot. New Hampshire and Nevada would go second, followed by Georgia and Nevada — a change Biden has championed to ensure that voters of color have more influence deciding the party’s White House nominee.
The new calendar would be largely moot in the short term if Biden runs again, reducing the chance of a major Democratic primary challenger.
His expected announcement of a reelection campaign is still likely weeks away. But Biden’s advisers have been preparing for one for months, making staffing arrangements and readying lines of political attacks against Republicans seen as early presidential front-runners, including Trump, who launched his campaign in November, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I look forward to being on your side when you run for president in 2024,” outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Biden during a farewell speech Wednesday night.
Alan Clendenin, a DNC member from Florida, said Biden has strengthened the economy, reestablished U.S. global standing and promoted inclusive values — the opposite of what Trump and DeSantis stand for.
“They predicted gloom and doom. He’s proved them all wrong,” said Clendenin, who kicked off a DNC Southern caucus meeting by noting that Florida has begun lagging behind other states in key policy areas and joking of its governor, “That’s what happened when you’re led by the devil.”
Biden repeatedly denounced “extreme MAGA Republicans” as a threat to the nation’s democracy in the runup to last fall’s midterm elections, when his party pulled off a stronger-than-expected showing. The president has since worked to portray today’s GOP as beholden as ever to Trump, saying at the New York fundraiser, “You’d think that what would happen is that there would be a little bit, as we Catholics say, (of) an epiphany.”
“Well, instead, it’s been the exact opposite,” Biden said. “They’ve just doubled down.”
The president will have a harder time campaigning on future legislative accomplishments now that a House Republican majority has promised to thwart the White House policy agenda at every turn. A coming fight over extending the nation’s legal debt ceiling may only harden partisan clashes.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he and the White House would continue talking about ways to avoid a debt limit crisis. But, referring to federal spending, McCarthy said, “The current path we’re on we cannot sustain.”
Biden has also suggested that simply bashing Republicans won’t be enough to expand his party’s electoral base. He acknowledged that his 2020 run brought the support of “not enough, but a fair number of blue-collar workers” and lamented that such voters “used to always be our folks.”
The president said his party has seen its support among Americans without a college degree decline “because a lot of people think we left them behind.” He said that perception has more to do with attitude than with policy.
Weingarten, whose union represents 1.7 million members, said Biden is right to acknowledge criticisms that Democrats can be seen as elitist, but said those charges were coming from a GOP that has done little to help workers or families. By contrast, she said, Biden has solidified pension funds, promoted union membership and helped reduce costs for low income families.
“There’s a lot of grievance in the country about the loss of good union jobs,” she said. “Regardless of what has happened in the past, I would say that Joe Biden is a working person’s president.”
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