Biden to Focus on ‘Battle for the Soul of the Nation’ in Prime-Time Speech

WASHINGTON — President Biden will travel to Pennsylvania on Thursday to deliver a rare prime-time speech on what the White House called the “battle for the soul of the nation,” returning to the theme of democracy in peril that he used in the 2020 presidential campaign as his party fights to hold onto control of Congress in the looming midterm elections.

Mr. Biden’s speech outside Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia will describe how democracy itself in America is at stake while most likely taking aim at a Republican Party he has increasingly criticized in recent weeks, according to a White House official. It is also expected to emphasize the reputation of the United States on the global stage.

The speech will come as Mr. Biden has struck a more aggressive tone after spending most of the first year of his presidency preferring to emphasize unity in a divided nation over attacking Republicans, at times frustrating members of his own party. Just last week, the president condemned “ultra-MAGA Republicans” for a philosophy he described as “semifascism.”

It also comes as former President Donald J. Trump and his norm-busting presidency have returned to the fore, amid investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and an F.B.I. search of his Florida home that retrieved highly sensitive documents he took with him from the White House. As Republicans have rallied to his defense, many have defended his efforts to overturn the election or attacked basic institutions of government including the F.B.I. and the Justice Department.

The timing of Mr. Biden’s speech on Thursday, less than three months before the November elections, is also another sign that the administration is leaning into a strategy outlined in a memo written by Jen O’Malley Dillon, a deputy White House chief of staff, and Anita Dunn, a top communications adviser. Mr. Biden is expected to trumpet legislative victories that “beat the special interests” and attack the extremism embraced by Mr. Trump and his allies, both strategies emphasized in the memo.

Mr. Biden has suffered from dismal approval ratings amid high inflation for months. But Democrats are having one of the more successful periods of his presidency, passing legislation investing $280 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research, expanding medical care to military veterans exposed to burn pits and making the largest U.S. investment in history in climate and energy initiatives to fight global warming. And with gas prices falling and Mr. Biden’s approval rating ticking up slightly, Democrats now believe they have a shot at retaining control of the Senate and possibly even the House.

The focus of the president’s remarks on Thursday shows Mr. Biden is still concerned about the issue he pledged to address when he came into office: the state of democracy in America.

But the White House has also treaded lightly on calling out the potential misconduct and attacks on democratic norms by his political opponents. The White House has repeatedly declined to answer any questions about the F.B.I. search of Mr. Trump’s Florida residence for sensitive materials.

In one of his more aggressive condemnations of Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden marked the anniversary of the assault on the Capitol by accusing his predecessor of putting “a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy.” But he never mentioned Mr. Trump’s name.

The address on Thursday will be Mr. Biden’s second this week in Pennsylvania, the setting for pivotal Senate, House and governor’s elections. On Tuesday, he will travel to Wilkes-Barre for a speech on his administration’s strategy to combat crime.

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