By Steve Holland
MILWAUKEE, Wis. (Reuters) -Democratic President Joe Biden on Monday sought to clear up any confusion about his stance against “MAGA Republicans” devoted to former President Donald Trump, saying he wasn’t referring to all Republicans in comments last week after some on the right accused him of stoking division.
“Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican, not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology. But the extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division,” Biden said during a Labor Day stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Last week in Philadelphia, Biden blasted Republicans devoted to Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) agenda as a threat to U.S. democracy. Republicans fired back that he had campaigned as a unifier in 2020, but was now turning his back on large segments of the American public who voted Republican.
Speaking to hundreds of union leaders and advocates under a bright sun in Milwaukee on Labor Day, the U.S. holiday designated to celebrate the achievements of American workers, Biden said he was not smearing all Republicans. But he slammed those who would defend the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“There’s no democracy where you can be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy,” he said.
When a heckler erupted, Biden said to leave the protester alone. “Everybody is entitled to be an idiot,” he said. Democrats and mainstream Republicans need to battle against the ideas of the MAGA Republicans, he continued.
“Democracy is at stake,” he said.
Aides say the president is increasingly concerned about anti-democratic trends in the Republican Party, and sees a need to jump into this year’s Congressional elections fight and recast the stakes of his own 2024 re-election bid.
“COMING FOR YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY”
Biden, who will also speak later on Monday to members of the United Steelworkers of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is trying to bolster union support for Democrats ahead of the November midterm Congressional elections, with Democrats’ control of Congress hanging in the balance.
Republicans have been hammering at the high inflation rate plaguing the U.S. economy ahead of the Nov. 8 elections, claiming that Biden and his policies are responsible.
In his Milwaukee address, Biden portrayed Republicans as unwilling to support reforms that help American workers. He said MAGA Republicans wanted to force a vote every year on maintaining Social Security benefits for the retired.
“The biggest contrast between MAGA Republicans, the extreme right and Trumpies — these MAGA Republicans in Congress are coming for your Social Security as well,” he said.
Monday’s stops give Biden a chance to hone his message on organized labor and urge workers to stay loyal to the Democratic Party in two states with critical midterm races.
In Wisconsin, Democrats hope to re-elect Democratic Governor Tony Evers and help the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, oust Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats are optimistic that the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate, John Fetterman, will defeat the Republican television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Republicans are favored to win control of the House of Representatives in November and perhaps even the Senate.
The opposition party usually gains seats in the first elections after a new president takes over. But Biden and his team are hopeful that a string of recent legislative successes and voters’ outrage at the Supreme Court’s overturning of the 1973 ruling that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion will generate strong turnout among Democrats.
Some political pundits see a path for Democrats to hang on to both houses of Congress. Biden, whose own approval rating fell to 38% last week in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, in recent weeks has intensified his attack on Trump and his far-right loyalists to try to drive up strong Democratic turnout and appeal to mainstream Republicans.
Unions have been increasing in popularity in recent years. A Gallup poll released last week found that 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions, the highest Gallup has recorded on this measure since 1965.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler)