Thursday, November 30

White House defends decision to position U.S. Marines behind Biden during Philadelphia speech

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday defended the White House’s decision to position two U.S. Marines behind President Joe Biden in his Thursday night speech, in which he portrayed former President Donald Trump and “MAGA Republicans” as representative of “an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”

The speech, outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, was an official White House event about what aides called the continued “battle for the soul of the nation” — a phrase Mr. Biden first used to describe the impetus for his candidacy when he launched his 2020 presidential campaign. On Thursday night, Mr. Biden said “MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” “do not believe in the rule of law” and “refused to acknowledge a free election.” 

President Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on what he calls the “battle for the soul of the nation” in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, on Sept. 1, 2022.


Jean-Pierre, asked to address the presence of Marines during the speech, argued that showing the U.S. Marines in the president’s background was appropriate because the Marines believe in the nation’s core values and play a vital role in defending democracy at home and around the world.

“The presence of the Marines at the speech was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect the president has for these service members, to these ideals and the unique role our independent military plays in defending our democracy, no matter which party is in power,” Jean-Pierre said during Friday’s press briefing. “Again, no matter which party is in power. And it is not abnormal — it is actually normal —for presidents from either side of the aisle to give speeches in front of members of the military, including President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush. It is not an unusual sight.” 

Another reporter asked about where the line should be drawn for the president in utilizing military members in the backdrop of a political speech.

“For him, this was not a political speech,” Jean-Pierre said. “This was an opportunity in prime time to talk directly to the American people and to be very clear, with a clear voice, to talk about what is happening in our country today. And it was about our values as a country, about our democracy as a country. And so, that is what the president wanted to convey. And he believes the men and women who wear the uniform and protect us every day, protect this country every day, that’s what they fight for as well.” 

But Mr. Biden’s speech cast blame on members of a faction of one political party, who, he said, “tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people,” and this time, he added, they’re “determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.”

The president said Thursday that much of the rest of the GOP is “intimidated” by Trump and his followers. 

“I believe it’s my duty to tell the truth with you no matter how difficult, no matter how painful,” he said Thursday. “And here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refused to acknowledge a free election.”

GOP Senator Marco Rubio, tweeting a still image from Mr. Biden’s speech, offered this comment: “Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite.”

The Pentagon and Marines referred requests for comment to the White House.

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report.

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