Biden blames GOP for potential government shutdown, political division; praises Harris as ‘freedom’ fighter
President Biden spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus Saturday night in Washington, D.C., where he attributed Congress’ failure to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown thus far and political violence to a group of “extreme Republicans.”
The president and Vice President Harris both delivered remarks at the annual awards dinner for the CBC Foundation 52nd Annual Legislative Conference National Town Hall.
Harris said during her remarks that the CBC is helping to “lead the fight for reproductive freedom. Just as you continue to lead the fight for civil rights. And I do believe the right to be safe is also a civil right. Today, however, gun violence is the number one cause of death for children in America. But instead of protecting our children, extremists obstruct.”
The vice president also blasted Florida officials for “intend[ing] to tell our children that enslaved people benefited from slavery.” She was referring to a controversial line in Florida’s new instruction on African American history, which addresses “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are seen onstage during the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on September 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Getty)
In taking the stage after Harris introduced him, Biden thanked his vice president for her partnership and “always fighting for freedom.” He said Harris is “doing an incredible job, and she really is. I told you I was gonna have a smart vice president and an African American woman, and we got one.”
He also thanked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who received a Co-Chair’s Award during the event, saying “No wonder I’m doing okay.”
Biden said some members of Congress are “sowing so much division” and willing to shut down the government, referring to a few congressional Republicans who have signaled that they would not support the deal he brokered with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to avoid a government shutdown on October 1.
“Just a few months ago, after long negotiations between myself and the new speaker, we agreed to spending levels to government fund essential domestic and national security priorities, while still cutting the deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade,” Biden said. “Now, a small group of extreme Republicans don’t want to live up to the deal. So now everyone in America could be forced to pay the price.”
“Let’s be clear. If the government shuts down, that means members of Congress and members of the U.S. military are going to have to continue to work and not get paid,” he continued. “A government shutdown could impact everything from food safety to cancer research to Head Start programs for children. Funding the government is among the most basic responsibilities of Congress. And it’s time for Republicans to start doing the job America elected them to do.”
The president also spoke on the 2024 election, reiterating his previous comments claiming “democracy is at risk” and that there is a “battle for the soul of America.” Biden said Saturday that Americans no longer doubt that U.S. democracy is at stake now and was at stake in 2020.
President Joe Biden speaks onstage at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation annual Legislative Conference National Town Hall on September 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C.(Getty)
“And thank God, because of all of you, we won,” he said of the 2020 presidential election. “I might add, we won convincingly and clearly by a margin of seven million votes, 81 million votes cast. The most in history. And that victory withstood not one, but 60 legal court challenges and an insurrection on January 6. So I’m running again.”
Biden, 80, noted that there are conversations surrounding whether he fit for office given his advanced age, but said he “knew what to do” to support the U.S. and its allies when he took office in 2021.
“When I came to office, this nation was flat on its back,” Biden said. “I knew what to do. I vaccinated the nation and rebuilt the economy. When Russia invaded Ukraine. I knew what to do. I rebuilt NATO. And brought our alliance to rally the world. And above all, when democracy was taken I knew what to do.”
He later joked that he entered the U.S. Senate “200 years ago” in the early 1970s.
Addressing political division and violence, the president blamed former President Trump and his MAGA Republican base.
The president said hate groups all across American have been emboldened and that the intelligence community has said the greatest terroristic threat to the U.S. is domestic.
“That’s the greatest terrorist: domestic. Because far too often, it’s still the case, you can get killed or attacked walking on the streets of America just because you’re black or because you’re wearing a symbol of your faith … I want the entire nation to join me in sending the strongest, clearest, most powerful message possible that political violence in America is never, never, never acceptable in our democracy. Never. Because democracy is at stake,” he said.
Biden added, “Let there be no question Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans are determined to spread anger, hate, and division. They seek power at all costs, they’re determined to destroy this democracy. I can not watch that happen, nor can you. And I’ll always defend, protect and fight for our democracy.”
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation annual Legislative Conference National Town Hall on September 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C.(Getty)
The president also claimed he “started off as a kid in the civil rights movement in Wilmington, Delaware when I was in high school.”
“When I ran the first time for the Senate at 29 years old, and Nixon won by 64% in my state, I won because virtually 90% of the African-American community — we have a large community — voted for me,” Biden said. “I owe you.”
Biden also explained that the 2017 Charlottesville shooting and Trump saying at the time that there are “very fine people on both sides” led him to seek the presidency in 2020.
“The president at the time was asked what happened. He said, quote, ‘There are very fine people on both sides. Very fine people on both sides.’ When I heard that, I knew I could no longer sit on the sidelines because the President of the United States said yes, drawing a moral equivalence equivalency between those who stood for hate, those stood against it,” Biden said.
Biden also appeared to have some gaffes during his speech Saturday night, mispronouncing rapper LL Cool J’s name and initially referring to the artist as “boy” before quickly correcting himself. He was attempting to acknowledge LL Cool J and MC Lyte for their musical talents as the two artists received the Phoenix Award for their musical contributions at the annual awards dinner.
“Two of the great artists of our time representing the groundbreaking legacy of hip hop in America, LL Jay Cool J, uhhh…” Biden said as the crowd laughed. “By the way that boy — that man’s got biceps bigger than my thighs.”
Biden, notably, has a history of referring to African Americans as “boy,” a term considered a racial epithet when used to describe black men, including earlier this year when referring to Maryland’s Democrat Gov. Wes Moore, the state’s first black governor.