In the wake of two mass shootings that have stunned the nation, former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday pointed blame at President Donald Trump for lacking “the moral authority to lead,” saying the president is encouraging a rise of white supremacism within the U.S.
Biden made his remarks in Burlington, Iowa, drawing on statements Trump made following several instances of hate-motivated mass killings in the U.S. during his 2 1/2 years in the White House. He said Trump has given “safe harbor” to neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK, and rebuked the president for using words that “unleash the deepest, darkest forces” in the country.
“In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation,” Biden said, later adding: “We have a problem with this rising tide of white supremacy in America, and we have a president who encourages and emboldens it.”
Trump’s response was swift. As he was traveling to meet with law enforcement and grieving families in Dayton, Ohio, and later in El Paso, he wrote on Twitter: “Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring!
“The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy,” the president added. “It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”
Thirty-one people were killed over the weekend in separate back-to-back mass shootings by gunmen armed with assault-style weapons in Dayton and El Paso. In El Paso, federal authorities have said the shooter, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, held racist and anti-immigrant perspectives. The motive in Dayton remains unclear, though authorities say the shooter — Connor Betts — had previously expressed a desire to kill many people.
Biden’s bomb-throwing lasted throughout his 25-minute speech. Trump was also contrasted with Republican and Democratic past presidents who Biden says “stepped up” at times of conflict during American history, saying those leaders “chose to fight for what the best of American character was about.”
“There’s deafening silence now,” Biden said.
On the policy front, Biden discussed banning assault weapons, issuing a federal gun buy-back program and creating laws to address domestic terrorism.
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The speech and Trump’s responses made national news almost immediately. The exchange resembled a similar fight in the press that erupted when both visited Iowa in early June. That time, the pair traded jabs over social media and in public statements as they held rallies on opposite ends of the state.
Early polls have placed Biden at the top of a large field of Democratic candidates seeking to defeat Trump in 2020. Amid his campaign, Biden has largely sought to keep eyes trained on Trump, offering a glimpse of what a 2020 matchup might look like should he become the Democratic Party’s nominee.
Biden, who first joined the U.S. Senate in 1972, enjoys more political experience than his rivals. But with a long career in politics comes a long track record for opponents to scrutinize. And as Biden has sought to stay on top of the game, he’s been forced to defend criticisms from fellow Democrats over his previous policy stances on issues ranging from abortion to de-segregation efforts.
Biden’s campaign visit comes as Iowa caucus season is in full swing. While the general election is more than one year away, Democratic candidates are looking for early support among Iowans, who expect some retail politicking from presidential candidates to land in their backyards every four years.
The Biden campaign event in Burlington drew a crowd of roughly 250 people to a venue on the northern outskirts of the Mississippi River town. Among the attendees was Mike Edwards, a union-card-carrying Burlington resident who works in manufacturing.
Edwards says he’s yet to commit to a candidate, and many people he knows are in the same boat. He’s watching Biden and he also likes U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“I still like him, I still like his message, I think he needs to be a little stronger on … building the middle class (and) unions,” Edwards said. “Need to hear a little more of that. People don’t think that’s something that really needs to be talked about in the Midwest because at least in Iowa it is more rural, more (agriculture)-driven.”
Another Burlington resident visiting the event was Gail Wydeman, an Independent voter who’s gravitated toward the Democratic Party as of late. She’s yet to commit to a candidate too, and says she wants to learn more about Biden’s platform before she can decide how she really feels about him.
“He’s OK. I haven’t decided for sure,” she said, adding: “I agree with what he was saying, but I would like to hear more of what his plans are for the future.”