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Hitting back at Trump, Biden gears up for more clashes with GOP

After former president Donald Trump hosted two outspoken antisemites for dinner last month, President Biden tweeted a blunt condemnation of bigotry, second gentleman Doug Emhoff hosted a summit for Jewish leaders, and the White House launched a new task force to combat antisemitism.

Minutes after Trump suggested terminating parts of the Constitution to overturn his 2020 election loss, the White House issued a statement chastising the former president and defending the “sacrosanct document.”

And when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said the Jan. 6 rioters would have been armed and successful if she had been leading the 2021 insurrection, Biden’s press secretary did not wait for reporters to ask about it before rebuking the comments as “dangerous” and “vile.”

The sharply worded responses, coming in the weeks since Democrats outperformed expectations in the November midterms, appear to signal an effort by Biden and the White House to respond faster and more forcefully to provocative comments by Trump and his supporters. As the president heads toward an expected reelection announcement early next year, some Democratic strategists see an advantage in pointedly — and frequently — drawing a contrast with Trump, the GOP and the Republicans poised to take over the House of Representatives.

The moves come in the wake of Trump’s announcement of a third presidential bid and a midterm election that will give the GOP a modest edge in the House. With their thin majority, House Republican leaders will have little room to distance themselves from any of their members, giving lawmakers with incendiary views outsize influence, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

“Every time some outrage erupts from that body, it will remind the American people of Donald Trump and that this is still the party of Donald Trump,” Riley said. “The noisy and unruly behavior in the House will be perpetual reminders that the party prefers to make noise rather than govern.”

Some GOP officials also have spoken out against Trump in recent weeks, and they accused the White House of piling on in an attempt to try to score political points on matters that should be above politics. Others have called out Democrats for their own controversial comments and actions in the past, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has pledged to remove some Democrats from their committees for allegedly inappropriate behavior.

Beyond that, Republicans argue that Biden’s stewardship of the economy has been inept — and have made the case that the chaos spawned by high inflation, crime, immigration and homelessness will motivate voters far more than any Democratic effort to paint all Republicans as extremists.

White House officials say Biden has long felt compelled to publicly reject political extremism and violent rhetoric, pointing to his repeated statements that he decided to run against Trump after seeing white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville in 2017. Biden used his first prime time presidential address in 2021 to condemn a rash of anti-Asian attacks that took place last year.

In the run-up to the November midterms, Biden gave two prime time addresses on the importance of defending democracy, speaking from Independence Hall in Philadelphia in September and from Capitol Hill last month.

“I believe the voices excusing or calling for violence and intimidation are a distinct minority in America, but they’re loud and they are determined,” Biden said on Nov. 3, days after a man trying to kidnap House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) assaulted her husband in the couple’s San Francisco home.

As Election Day approached, Biden and his allies singled out Republicans by name, not only criticizing their policies but in some cases describing them as a threat to the constitutional order. Advisers to the president, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, said they believed his emphasis on democracy in the final weeks of the campaign were pivotal, as many of the Trump-endorsed candidates Democrats singled out as election deniers lost in key races for Senate, governor, secretary of state and other critical positions.

In the weeks since the election, as the GOP claimed a 222-213 majority in the House and Trump formally announced his 2024 presidential campaign, the White House’s eagerness to call out anti-democratic messages has intensified.

It’s been fueled in part by the tone and agenda of the newly empowered House Republicans, who have announced plans for actions such as impeaching Biden’s Cabinet members, investigating his son Hunter, blocking spending bills and holding up debt limit increases, all of which the president’s team contends will be unpopular with centrist voters.

White House officials deny this is an electoral strategy, saying Biden is doing more naming and shaming in part because there has been a troubling increase in harmful and shameful rhetoric. When Biden met with historians at the White House earlier this year, they told him it is important to forcefully confront extremism to prevent it from seeping into the mainstream, officials said.

Aides also said Biden is criticizing Trump in part because Republican leaders are not — an argument that seeks to taint the broader GOP with the comments of its most incendiary members.

“As the President has repeatedly said, leaders have an obligation to denounce the hardcore, ultra MAGA agenda with which so many Republican officials in national roles have aligned themselves,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. Bates has often been the official tapped to respond to statements and actions by Trump and other Republicans.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s clear that more provocative statements by Republicans, which earlier in Biden’s presidency might have gone unanswered, are now meeting with a swift White House response.

Trump’s late-November dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, sparked immediate rebukes from the White House, beginning with a statement from Bates.

Responding to inquiries from reporters about the dinner, which took place after Ye’s antisemitic comments sparked widespread backlash, the White House declared that Holocaust denial is “repugnant” and should be condemned. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre followed up by calling on other political leaders to disavow the dinner, saying, “When you do not speak out against these types of poisonous and dangerous kind of remarks or representation, if you will, that is also incredibly dangerous within itself.”

Biden himself then chimed in on Dec. 2, implicitly rebuking Trump for the dinner and for failing to publicly reject the views espoused by his dinner guests. In a tweet that rapidly went viral and became one of the most popular of his presidency, Biden offered a blunt retort without naming Trump directly.

“I just want to make a few things clear: The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure,” he wrote in the post, which was liked more than 600,000 times. “And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides. Silence is complicity.”

The White House followed up with Emhoff’s summit and the new antisemitism task force, as if to draw a contrast between Biden’s response and that of the GOP.

Trump said he did not know about Fuentes’s views, claiming that Ye had brought the young man to his Mar-a-Lago resort without telling him. He described the dinner on his Truth Social platform as “quick and uneventful.”

A week later, the White House jumped into the fray again after the former president suggested terminating part of the Constitution in his ongoing crusade to discredit the results of the 2020 election. “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump posted on the Truth Social platform.

“Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation and should be universally condemned,” Bates said in a Dec. 3 statement. The statement, which the White House distributed widely once it realized the story was getting significant media interest, also called into question Trump’s patriotism.

“You cannot only love America when you win,” it said.

Biden, who said he ran for president to “restore the soul of the nation,” has tried to wrest the mantle of patriotism from Republicans, who for years have accused Democrats of badmouthing the country and disparaging the military and law enforcement.

The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and recent comments from some Republicans attacking the FBI, the voting system, election workers and others have provided an opening for Biden to cast himself as the defender of America’s institutions and the rule of law. On Dec. 10, Greene said that she and former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon would have executed a successful attack on Jan. 6, 2021, had they been in charge of the effort.

“We would have won,” she told the New York Young Republican Club. “Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”

The White House called the comments “a slap in the face” to law enforcement and Jean-Pierre used the opening remarks of her Dec. 12 press briefing to slam them as an example of the kind of rhetoric that House Republicans have embraced.

“It is just antithetical to our values as a country for a member of Congress to wish that the carnage of January 6th had been even worse and to brag that they would have succeeded in an armed insurrection against the United States government,” she said.

In a statement, Greene said that her comment was a “sarcastic joke” about Biden. “The White House needs to learn how sarcasm works,” she said. “My comments were making fun of Joe Biden and the Democrats, who have continuously made me a political target since January 6th.”

Early in his presidency, Biden barely mentioned Trump, as if hoping he would fade away for lack of attention. But as the president faces a potential rematch with his predecessor, Biden’s responses sometimes are tinged with mockery.

When Trump teased a “MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT” on his Truth Social platform this month and then unveiled a set of $99 digital trading cards featuring himself, Biden took to Twitter to rib his former — and potential future — electoral foe.

“I had some MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENTS the last couple of weeks, too …” he tweeted on Dec. 15, going on to list recent developments such as a slowdown in inflation, the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act and the freeing of basketball star Brittney Griner.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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