Joe Biden to give eleventh-hour speech on democracy ahead of midterms

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Joe Biden will deliver a primetime speech on Wednesday night about “preserving and protecting our democracy”, as the US president makes an eleventh-hour appeal to voters ahead of next week’s crucial midterm elections.

Biden, who has battled persistently low approval ratings for more than a year, has largely shied away from the campaign trail. But with less than a week to go until the midterms, and control of both chambers of Congress hanging in the balance, the president’s team on Wednesday morning hastily announced plans for the speech.

“He has been clear: democracy is under assault and we cannot pretend otherwise,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday. “The president will continue to call attention to the threat to democratic integrity and to public safety posed by those who deny the documented truth about election result[s] and those who seek to undermine public faith in our system of government.”

The speech comes as opinion polls suggest Democrats are on course to lose control of the House of Representatives, while the balance of power in the Senate will probably be decided by voters in a handful of key swing states. Democrats have in recent weeks struggled to refine their “closing argument” to voters, as surveys suggest inflation and the economy are weighing heavily on Americans’ minds.

White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon said Biden would point out that the results of next week’s elections could take days to be finalised, in an apparent effort to pre-empt any claims that the elections were mishandled. Non-partisan analysts have already warned that vote counts in swing states such as Pennsylvania are unlikely to be completed on election night, thanks to tight margins and state laws that prevent the tallying of mail-in ballots before polling day.

Donald Trump falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen” from him, repeatedly questioning why, in some states, initial vote counts showed him leading Biden, but the gap closed as mail-in ballots and other early votes were tallied.

“In some places, where we will have a lot of attention focused, the votes will be counted and will take a few days to be counted, because that is how democracy works, to make sure that every vote is counted,” O’Malley Dillon said.

Jean-Pierre said Biden was delivering the speech “because we’re seeing an alarming number of Republican officials who are . . . being very clear, they’re not going to accept the results of these elections. That’s a problem.”

Financial Times analysis of candidate statements and legal actions found that at least 22 Republican nominees for governor, secretary of state or attorney-general have denied the results of the 2020 presidential election. They include Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidates for governor in Arizona and Pennsylvania, respectively. Both states are key battlegrounds where statewide contests are expected to be close not only in next week’s midterms, but also in the next presidential election in 2024.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Jean-Pierre declined to directly tie the timing of Wednesday’s speech to last week’s attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. But she said: “It should not be controversial to speak out against political violence.”

Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Biden, said the president would speak from Capitol Hill in part to draw a connection to January 6, when mobs of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s election victory.

“Why will he be making the speech from Capitol Hill? Because on January 6 we saw violence geared towards subverting democratic processes there,” Dunn said. “It is an appropriate place to make these remarks.”

O’Malley Dillon and Dunn were both speaking at an event hosted by Axios in Washington.

The two advisers demurred when asked whether Biden was planning on seeking re-election in 2024. The president, who will turn 80 later this month, has shied away from formally declaring his intention to run again, but is widely expected to announce a decision shortly after the midterms.

“We are not going to get ahead of the president on this one. But I would say: obviously, he has said he intends to run,” Dunn said on Wednesday morning. “We are engaged in some planning for the simple reason that if we weren’t engaged in planning in November of this year, we should be in the political malpractice hall of fame.”

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