President Joe Biden speaks on his Safer America Plan at the Marts Center on August 30, 2022 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
by Jim Watson with Frankie Taggart in Washington
WILKES-BARRE, United States (AFP) — US President Joe Biden touted his plans to curb gun crime and framed Trumpist Republicans as a threat to the rule of law Tuesday on the first of multiple visits to the key swing state of Pennsylvania.
The Keystone State — which is hosting Biden three times over the coming days, including for a rare prime-time address to the nation on Thursday — is one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds as the president’s party seeks to hold on to Congress in the midterm elections.
The Democratic leader was in the city of Wilkes-Barre Tuesday — near his hometown of Scranton — where he promoted his Safer America Plan and called out Republicans for blocking gun reforms.
“I’m determined to ban assault weapons in this country. Determined. I did it once before and I’ll do it again,” Biden said, referring to his work as a senator in the 1990s to institute the last ban.
Biden’s proposals include substantial new funding for 100,000 extra police officers on the streets, investment in crime prevention, and “commonsense steps on guns to keep dangerous firearms out of dangerous hands.”
His visit came as former president Donald Trump, still the most influential Republican, is due to host his own rally in the same area on Saturday.
Republicans have presented themselves as the party of law-and-order amid a nationwide spike in murders — with some success, according to multiple polls — while accusing Democrats of wanting to defund the police.
– ‘Afraid of the NRA’ –
But Biden has attempted to turn the tables by pointing to the Republicans’ defense of US Capitol rioters and highlighting the various criminal investigations embroiling Trump.
The president set out his party’s actions on violent crime, highlighting the bipartisan gun safety package he signed into law in June, breaking a decades-long stalemate on firearms control.
Only 14 Republicans crossed the aisle and approve the package, which included enhanced background checks for younger buyers and federal cash for states introducing “red flag” laws that allow courts to temporarily remove weapons from those considered a threat.
Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president, said at the time that the legislation “undermines Second Amendment freedom.”
“The NRA was against it, which means the vast majority of Republicans in Congress couldn’t even stand up and vote for it because they’re afraid of the NRA,” Biden said Tuesday.
He also denounced attacks on the integrity of the FBI, three weeks after it raided Trump’s Florida residence to retrieve government secrets removed from the White House.
The federal law enforcement agency came under a barrage of criticism in right-wing circles after searching the Mar a Lago resort for government secrets — and was attacked by an armed man at its Cincinnati office in the following days.
– ‘Sickening’ –
“It’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI… There is no place in this country for endangering the lives of law enforcement. No place. None. Period,” Biden said.
“I’m opposed to defunding the police, I’m also opposed to defunding the FBI.”
And he berated “every single” Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker for voting against his American Rescue Plan, which provided hundreds of billions of dollars for states to help fund law enforcement and public safety programs.
The outcome of the upcoming US Senate election in Pennsylvania could decide whether the Democrats cede control of the evenly divided upper chamber of Congress to the Republicans for the next two years.
But Republican strategists worry that controversial Trump-backed candidates are muddying their path to victory.
The Cook Political Report moved the race to “lean Democrat” this month, however, citing widespread Republican concerns with Trump-backed celebrity physician Mehmet Oz’s campaign.
Initially preferring to present himself as a unifier in a deeply divided country, Biden has recently been concentrating his fire on Trumpist Republicans he has accused of embracing “semi-fascism.”
The 79-year-old Democrat, who narrowly beat Trump in Pennsylvania in 2020, will follow Tuesday’s address with two further visits to the state.
On Thursday he will echo his 2020 campaign theme about the battle for the “soul of nation” in historic Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were written.
He will set out how an imperiled democracy threatens America’s standing on the international stage, according to White House officials, highlighting action to protect voting rights but warning that access to the ballot box is still at risk.
© Agence France-Presse