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Monday, January 08, 2024

Biden to speak at S.C. church where white supremacist killed nine - The Washington Post

Biden to speak at S.C. church where white supremacist killed nine

"President’s remarks at Mother Emanuel AME underline his message of a battle over America’s meaning

Joe Biden, then a Democratic presidential candidate, grasps the hand of Tyrone Sanders, the husband of Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting survivor Felicia Sanders, left, during a town hall in Charleston, S.C., in July 2019. (Meg Kinnard/AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — President Biden is set to deliver a speech at a historic Black church here Monday as he kicks off the election year by arguing that the presidential race presents a stark choice about the nation’s character, and that former president Donald Trump poses a unique danger.

Biden’s remarks are scheduled to take place at Mother Emanuel AME Church, where a white supremacist fatally shot nine people in 2015. Monday’s event, which some survivors and victims’ families are expected to attend, is intended to court Black voters amid signs that many African Americans are unenthused about his reelection campaign.

The address is also meant to build on Biden’s argument in a speech Friday that he and Trump are engaged in a “battle for the soul of America.” The president plans to remind Americans that the hate that spurred the church shooting still exists, and that elected officials must combat it, his campaign said.

Biden’s dual speeches on Friday and Monday, the first major public events of his campaign, suggest that his team has landed on a central message: that voters face a choice in November between a candidate who embraces basic American values and one who repudiates them. The addresses come a week before Republicans launch their nomination process at the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, with Trump holding a formidable lead in polls of GOP voters.

Near Valley Forge, the site in Pennsylvania where former president George Washington led troops during the Revolutionary War, Biden said Friday that the election centers on the question, “Is democracy still America’s sacred cause?” He named Trump dozens of times, suggesting he sees it as increasingly likely that the former president will be the Republican nominee.

Trump leads his closest competitor, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by nearly 50 points in a Washington Post average of national polls from December. This weekend, Trump marked the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by falsely stating that liberals or government figure were behind the assault, calling people detained on riot-related charges “J6 hostages” and claiming that undocumented immigrants are leading the true “insurrection.”

Biden last visited Mother Emanuel, the oldest AME church in the South, as vice president soon after the 2015 mass shooting.

That massacre was a traumatic event in American history. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, entered the church during a Bible study session and sprayed the group with bullets. His killing spree spurred a national reevaluation of the use of the Confederate flag, with some states — including South Carolina — removing it from official settings.

President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for his friend the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of those killed, closing his remarks with a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” an event that became one of the most-remembered moments of his presidency.

Biden has often said that his decision to run for president in 2020 was spurred by the sight of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and Trump’s indifferent response to it. Biden has also shown a fondness for speaking at resonant historic sites, from Gettysburg, Pa., to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

As president, he has previously visited South Carolina three times. Although the state is heavily Republican, it holds an important symbolic value for Biden, since its heavily Black Democratic electorate helped launch Biden to the 2020 nomination after he lost in Iowa and New Hampshire, whose electorates are far less diverse.

The president’s speech Monday takes place in the district of Rep. James E. Clyburn, a longtime ally who was crucial to that win in 2020. Clyburn warned Sunday on CNN that the president’s message has yet to break through the “MAGA wall” and that he was “very concerned” about Biden’s standing with Black voters.

In a statement released by Biden’s campaign the same day, Clyburn said the election will determine “whether this country will stand up against hate and vitriol embodied by Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans.”

“Few places embody these stakes like Mother Emanuel AME — a church that has witnessed the horrors of hate-fueled political violence and a church that has spoken to the conscience of this nation and shown us the path forward after moments of division and despair,” Clyburn said.

Vice President Harris also has been reaching out to South Carolina’s Black voters. She spoke Saturday at a women’s retreat at an AME church in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where she touted the Biden administration’s work on Black maternal mortality and the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Harris is also scheduled to speak at an NAACP event in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 15.

South Carolina will host the first party-sanctioned Democratic primary on Feb. 3, after Biden pushed for a change in the order of the early Democratic nominating contests.

The president faces pressure to prove that he has delivered on his promises to Black Americans and that he would continue to promote equity in a second term. His aides told reporters last week that he remains committed to addressing racially motivated extremism.

“Whether it is white supremacists descending on the historic American city of Charlottesville, the assault on our nation’s capital on January 6 or a white supremacist murdering churchgoers at Mother Emanuel nearly nine years ago, America’s worried about the rise in political violence and determined to stand against it,” deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said.

Biden’s aides argue that Republican presidential candidates, in contrast, are trying to rewrite the country’s racial history.

Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley recently did not mention slavery when asked about the cause of the Civil War; she later acknowledged that the conflict was “about slavery” and said she should have stated as much from the outset. DeSantis has pushed limitations on how Florida’s teachers can discuss Black history.

Trump and other GOP leaders reject the notion that they are unfriendly to Black voters or causes, saying it is liberals who insist on dividing the country and injecting race into matters that should be colorblind. Conservative policies on taxes, regulation and similar issues will lift Black voters as well as other Americans, they say.

For Biden, the start of the new year represents a new phase of his campaign. He has recently ramped up his criticism of Trump’s descriptions of his political opponents as “vermin” and immigrants as “poisoning the blood” of the country. Many scholars say Trump’s language is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and other dictators.

Biden’s campaign last week launched a TV ad, to run in seven swing states, that builds on the argument that Trump and “MAGA extremists” are seeking to erode democracy and promote political violence. He also met Wednesday with academics and historians to discuss threats to democratic institutions.

Matt Viser contributed to this report."

Biden to speak at S.C. church where white supremacist killed nine - The Washington Post

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