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President Biden says Republican Party "dominated, driven and intimated" by Donald Trump, MAGA Republicans

President Biden says Republican Party "intimated" by Donald Trump, MAGA Republicans
President Biden says Republican Party "intimated" by Donald Trump, MAGA Republicans 03:44

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- President Joe Biden warned Thursday night that "equality and democracy are under assault" in the U.S. as he sounded an alarm about his predecessor, Donald Trump, and "MAGA Republican" adherents, labeling them an extremist threat to the nation and its future.

Aiming to reframe the November elections as part of a battle for the nation's soul - "the work of my presidency" - Biden used his prime-time speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to argue that Trump and the "Make America Great Again" allies who now lead the Republican Party are a menace to the nation's system of government, its standing abroad and its citizens' way of life.

Watch: President Biden's full speech at Independence Hall 24:12

Biden, speaking from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, says "too much of what's happening in our country today is not normal" during a speech that was coined as "the continued battle for the soul of the nation."

"Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic," Biden said. "I want to be very clear, very clear upfront. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology."

"But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans," Biden said, "and that is a threat to this country."

Biden said they "are determined to take this country backward,' they "promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence."  

The explicit effort by Biden to marginalize Trump and his adherents marks a sharp turn for the president, who preached his desire to bring about national unity in his Inaugural address. White House officials said it reflects his mounting concern about Trump allies' ideological proposals and relentless denial of the nation's 2020 election results.

"MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards," Biden said. "Backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love."

"Now, America must choose to move forward or to move backwards," he said, appealing for citizens to "vote, vote, vote" to protect their democracy. "For a long time, we've reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not."

Biden, who largely avoided even referring to "the former guy" by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally. Now, emboldened by his party's recent legislative wins and wary of Trump's return to the headlines, Biden is sharpening his attacks, last week likening the "MAGA philosophy" to "semi-fascism."

Trump plans a rally this weekend in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden's birthplace.

In Philadelphia, Biden harked back to the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, which he said brought him out of political retirement to challenge Trump. Biden argued that the country faces a similar crossroads in the coming months, and he cast defending the nation's values as "the work of my presidency - a mission I believe in with my whole soul."

Raising his voice over pro-Trump hecklers outside the building where the nation's founding was debated, Biden said he wasn't condemning the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020.

Biden's appearance was promoted as an official, taxpayer-funded event, a mark of how the president views defeating the Trump agenda as much as a policy aim as a political one. Red and blue lights illuminated the brick of Independence Hall, as the Marine Band played "Hail to the Chief" and a pair of Marine sentries stood at parade rest in the backdrop.

"There are far more Americans, from every background and belief, who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it,'' Biden said. He urged Americans to "come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology."

Biden also condemned political violence in all of its forms, saying, "We can't allow violence to be normalized."

Crews were setting up the stage and seating area at Independence Hall for two days.

The White House says the reason why the president spoke here is because this is where American democracy began. Independence Hall is where the Constitution was written and signed.

While there is a lot of history in the area, it's also a neighborhood.

People who live here say they were excited about hosting the president.

"I'm very excited," Nils Van Ammers said. "It's not that presidents haven't been here before, but it's a privilege."

Anticipation was high as crews put the finishing touches on Biden's stage.

"I think it's very exciting to be in this beautiful city that's so historic," Marian Bradley said, "and to bring the modern element into it now."

The speech was coined as being "The Continued Battle For The Soul of the Nation." It focused on the opportunities and possibilities moving forward, and it also covered topics the president sees as threatening democracy.

Eyewitness News asked people at Independence Hall what issues they'd like the president to cover.

"The main thing is to stop this gun violence," Eugene Mitchell said. "I would love to see that, the gun violence. He says he's getting bid firearms, assault weapons and what have you, so that is what I'm looking forward to."

"I think we the people have to pay better attention," Van Ammers said, "and not get caught up in left and right stuff."

White House officials said the president has been planning this speech for a while, and it will not be focused on the news of the day.

White House officials also say it will kick off the president's campaign season ahead of the midterm elections.

Albert Eisenberg, a local conservative political consultant, says he will be watching Pennsylvania's Senate election closely.

"The stakes people make out of these races can really contribute to way too much aggression and energy," Eisenberg said, "but I certainly hope Republicans hold this seat."

The speech was by invitation only. Among those attendees are, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf with his wife and Mayor Jim Kenney.

Biden's trip to Philadelphia was just one of his three to the state within a week, a sign of Pennsylvania's importance in the midterms, with competitive Senate and governor's races. However, neither Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democrats' Senate nominee, nor Attorney General Josh Shapiro, their pick for governor, attended Thursday night.

The White House intended the speech to unite familiar themes: holding out bipartisan legislative wins on guns and infrastructure as evidence that democracies "can deliver," pushing back on GOP policies on guns and abortion that Biden says are out of step with most people's views, and rejecting efforts to undermine confidence in the nation's elections or diminish its standing abroad.

The challenges have only increased since the tumult surrounding the 2020 election and the Capitol attack.

Lies surrounding that presidential race have triggered harassment and death threats against state and local election officials and new restrictions on mail voting in Republican-dominated states. County election officials have faced pressure to ban the use of voting equipment, efforts generated by conspiracy theories that voting machines were somehow manipulated to steal the election.

Candidates who dispute Trump's loss have been inspired to run for state and local election posts, promising to restore integrity to a system that has been undermined by false claims.

There is no evidence of any widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines. Judges, including ones appointed by Trump, dismissed dozens of lawsuits filed after the election, and Trump's own attorney general called the claims bogus. Yet Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research polling has shown about two-thirds of Republicans say they do not think Biden was legitimately elected president.

This year, election officials face not only the continuing threat of foreign interference but also ransomware, politically motivated hackers and insider threats. Over the past year, security breaches have been reported at a small number of local election offices in which authorities are investigating whether office staff improperly accessed or provided improper access to sensitive voting technology.

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