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Biden says "we must unite America again" in speech at Philadelphia church before traveling to Harrisburg

President Joe Biden says his goal is to "unite America again" during speech in Philadelphia
President Joe Biden says his goal is to "unite America again" during speech in Philadelphia 06:48

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- President Biden said Sunday that his goal is to "unite America again" during a speech at Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ in Northwest Philadelphia.

Mr. Biden's remarks came during the first of two stops of the day in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state. After speaking in Philadelphia, the president and First Lady Jill Biden are headed to Harrisburg for an event at a local union hall.

"I've been doing this a long time, and I honest to God have never been more optimistic about America's future... if we stick together,"  the president said to the nearly 300 congregants in attendance. "We have to bring dignity and hope back in America."

Mr. Biden didn't directly address the critical phase of his campaign that he is entering following a shaky debate performance that has led a handful of Democratic lawmakers to call for him to step aside. But he said he had been "called according to [God's] purpose," that "we're all called to be doers," and "I think we just have to work together."  

President Biden speaks during a church service in northwest Philadelphia on Sunday, July 7, 2024
President Biden speaks during a church service in northwest Philadelphia on Sunday, July 7, 2024 CBS Philadelphia

Mr. Biden did joke about his age, saying that although he may look like he's "40 years old," he's "been around a long time." 

"The bishop and I were talking about that — it's heck turning 40," Mr. Biden said. 

According to CBS News reporters inside the church, the crowd started chanting "four more years" once Mr. Biden concluded his speech and returned to his seat on the stage.

Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived in Philadelphia around 10 a.m. ET, where they were met at the airport by Mayor Cherelle Parker and Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, both Democrats. The president also met with Gov. Josh Shapiro, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and others throughout the day.

President Biden with Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman
President Biden with Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman CBS Philadelphia

Mr. Biden arrived in Harrisburg on Air Force One alongside the first lady, Fetterman and his wife, Gisele. Upon arrival, the president answered one press question: Is the Democratic party behind him? To which Mr. Biden replied, "Yes."

The group then made its way to AFSCME, a local union hall in Harrisburg, where Mr. Biden stepped outside to speak to the crowd.

In an off-the-cuff speech without a teleprompter, Mr. Biden told those gathered in Harrisburg that in his second term, he plans to work on fairer taxes, touching on former President Trump's tax cuts for billionaires, which Mr. Biden has criticized throughout his campaigns and presidency.


"The middle class built this country, not Wall Street. And guess what? Unions built the middle class," Mr. Biden said.

 The president then handed the mic over to Fetterman, who spoke about the economy and the drastic change in the state of the country from 2020 to 2024.

"Let's talk about four years ago, we were all hoarding toilet paper," he said. "We'd all be on some big Zoom right now. But we're right here right now. Remember what that was like?" 

Fetterman also spoke about Trump being "obsessed with revenge," and said he believes Mr. Biden has stepped up to the plate during his presidency. 

"Joe Biden has held every line, every line — two wars, a pandemic, look at our economy," Fetterman said. "Our economy is the envy of the world right now."

Later, Mr. Biden met with Shapiro, who couldn't attend the events earlier in the day due to "intense budget negotiations," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told CBS News. The two men paid a visit to a nearby coffee shop where the president tipped $20 and also avoided questions about the latest cease-fire deal.

US President Joe Biden (R) visits a coffee shop with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro (C) and Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams (L) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024. Biden is back out on the campaign trail Sunday, desperate to salvage his re-election bid as senior Democrats meet to discuss growing calls that he quit the White House race. The 81-year-old Democrat kicks off a grueling week with two campaign rallies in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, before hosting the NATO leaders' summit in Washington. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Mr. Biden, who most recently traveled to Philadelphia in May with Vice President Kamala Harris to launch their "Black Voters for Biden-Harris" initiative," was originally scheduled to appear Sunday at the annual NEA conference in Philadelphia. That speech was canceled after the NEA's union, the National Education Association Staff Organization, announced a strike and set up picket lines around the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

Mr. Biden, who is fighting to save his endangered reelection effort, had planned to speak at the NEA conference, but his campaign said the president is a "fierce supporter of unions and he won't cross a picket line." 

The picket line effectively ended the weeklong convention, canceling the last three days of programming, the NEA said.

The NEA, which has school employee union affiliates in every state, has endorsed Biden.

The union announced it filed two unfair labor practice complaints over what it says is NEA's failure to comply with basic union requirements, and is accusing the NEA of unilaterally removing holiday overtime pay and failing to provide information on outsourcing $50 million in contracts.

In a statement, the NEA said it remained fully committed to a fair bargaining process. It also said it was "deeply concerning that misinformation has been shared" that misrepresented contract negotiations.

Mr. Biden's dual-city visit Sunday comes as the president works to shore up support for his reelection campaign following a shaky debate performance against Trump last month.

According to a CBS News source, following the debate and suggestions that Mr. Biden drop out, the president told campaign staff in no uncertain terms that he doesn't plan to leave the race. "Let me say this as clearly as I possibly can and as simply and straightforward as I can: I am running. I'm the nominee of the Democratic Party. No one's pushing me out. I'm not leaving," he said, according to one source.

President Biden hits the campaign trail in Philadelphia as the debate over his candidacy continues 02:31
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