'I'm not talking about all Republicans'

Biden assails ‘Trumpies’ in Labor Day battleground pitches

US president hits back at predecessor, who called him an ‘enemy of the state’ on Saturday, as parties gear up for midterms

US President Joe Biden speaks to an overflow crowd at a rally hosted by the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School, August 25, 2022, in Rockville, Maryland. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden speaks to an overflow crowd at a rally hosted by the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School, August 25, 2022, in Rockville, Maryland. (AP/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden excoriated “MAGA Republicans, the extreme right and Trumpies” on Monday, pitching his Labor Day appeals to union members he hopes will turn out in force for his party in November.

“The middle class built America,” Biden told a workers’ gathering at park grounds in Milwaukee. “Everybody knows that. But unions built the middle class.”

Later Monday, he was flying to Pittsburgh for the city’s parade — returning to Pennsylvania for the third time in less than a week and just two days after his predecessor, Donald Trump, staged his own rally in the state.

The unofficial start of fall, Labor Day also traditionally starts a political busy season where campaigns scramble to excite voters for Election Day on November 8. That’s when control of the House and Senate, as well some of the country’s top governorships, will be decided.

Trump spoke Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre, near Scranton, where Biden was born. The president made his own Wilkes-Barre trip last week to discuss increasing funding for police, decry GOP criticism of the FBI after the raid on Trump’s Florida estate, and argue that new, bipartisan gun measures can help reduce violent crime.

Two days after that, Biden went to Independence Hall in Philadelphia for a prime-time address denouncing the “extremism” of Trump’s fiercest supporters.

President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall, September 1, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Trump has endorsed candidates in key races around the country and Biden is warning that some Republicans now believe so strongly in Trumpism that they are willing to undermine core American values to promote it. The president said Thursday that “blind loyalty to a single leader, and a willingness to engage in political violence, is fatal to democracy.” Trump responded during his Saturday rally that Biden is “an enemy of the state.”

On Monday, Biden said “I’m not talking about all Republicans,” but singled out those who have taken Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign cry to dangerous or hateful lengths. He highlighted episodes like last year’s mob attack on the US Capitol.

Biden told the Milwaukee rally that many in the GOP have “chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate, division.”

“But together we can, and we must, choose a different path forward,” Biden said. “A future of unity and hope. we’re going to choose to build a better America.”

The crowd jeered as Biden chided Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin for voting against a Democratic-backed measure meant to lower prescription drug prices.

The president also returned to another theme that was a centerpiece of his 2020 campaign, that labor unions boosted the middle class.

President Joe Biden gives a thumbs up from the top of the steps of Air Force One at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Unions’ endorsements helped Biden overcome disastrous early finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire to win the Democratic primary, and eventually the White House. He has since continued to praise labor unions — even though many voters without college degrees remain among Trump’s strongest bloc of supporters.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union, called Biden’s championing of unions heading into the midterms “critical” and said the labor movement must “mobilize in battlegrounds across the country to ensure that working people turn out.”

“We’re really excited about the president speaking directly to workers about, if he had the opportunity, he’d join a union,” Henry said. She added “This president has signaled which side he’s on. And he’s on the side of working people. And that matters hugely.”

Biden, meanwhile, has personal history with Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade, which is among the nation’s largest. He attended the 2015 installment as vice president and returned in 2018. Both times, Biden, 79, faced questions about whether he would run for president in the coming elections — which he opted against in 2016 before winning the White House in 2020.

This year, the oldest president in US history has faced speculation about whether he will seek a second term in 2024 — though he has insisted that that is his intention, and the pressure has dissipated in recent weeks, after a string of policy and political successes for Biden and his party.

Still, both perennial presidential battleground states Biden was visiting Monday may provide key measures of Democrats’ strength before this November and 2024. With inflation still raging and the president’s approval ratings remaining low, how much Biden can help his party in top races — and how much candidates want him to try — remains to be seen.

That was on display in Wisconsin, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is trying to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, but did not appear with him in Milwaukee.

Former US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, September 3, 2022. (AP Photo/ Mary Altaffer)

In the state’s other top race, Tim Michels, a construction executive endorsed by Trump, is attempting to deny Democratic Gov. Tony Evers a second term. Evers also spoke at the labor event Biden addressed, and briefly greeted the president in a backstage photo line.

“We have a president who understands the challenges facing working families,” Evers told the crowd. He said that Biden “hasn’t forgotten that working families matter, not just on Labor Day, but every single day of the year.”

Pennsylvania voters are choosing a new governor, with state Attorney General John Shapiro facing another Trump-endorsed Republican, Doug Mastriano, and a new senator. That race is between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Trump-backed celebrity heart physician Mehmet Oz. Shapiro and Fetterman both planned to attend Monday’s Pittsburgh parade.

The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin races could decide which party controls the Senate next year, while the winner of each governorship may influence results in 2024’s presidential election. The stakes are particularly high given that some Trump-aligned candidates have spread lies about widespread fraud that did not occur during the 2020 election — raising questions about what might happen if a candidate they do not support wins the next presidential contest.

Vice President Kamala Harris paid tribute to organized labor in a breakfast meeting with the Greater Boston Labor Council, declaring “When union wages go up, everybody’s wages go up.”

“When union workplaces are safer everyone is safer,” Harris said. “When unions are strong, America is strong.”

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