Joe Biden has fully immersed himself in the campaign. And with him, he has entered the White House. The president of the United States knows that a lot is at stake in the legislative elections on November 8. And he has decided not to sit still. Biden is strategically using institutional acts as president to attack Republicans and to attract voters in swing states. His cabinet members are also mobilizing and even the White House Twitter account has been put into campaign mode, away from the institutional role.
The president has gone to Ohio this Friday, the same week in which he has already visited Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And next Wednesday he goes to Detroit (Michigan). Although Ohio has become more Republican —or Trumpist— and has stopped representing the average electorate in the country, there are four swing vote states. Biden has strategically chosen them for some of his most relevant presidential speeches just two months before the election.
This Friday, the president boasted about his CHIPS project, the law to promote the production of semiconductors, during his visit to the future Intel factory. In almost all of his trips, he is taking advantage of his flagship climate, fiscal, and health law, the so-called Inflation Reduction Law. In addition, Biden convened his cabinet at the White House on Tuesday to discuss how to promote the projects of these two laws and the infrastructure bill. Cabinet meetings are infrequent: This was the fourth since Biden took office in January 2021. It is made up of the vice president, the 15 secretaries of executive departments, the chief of staff and eight other members with different titles.
The president and his chief of staff deal directly with the secretaries of the departments and the collegiate body does not approve projects or decrees nor does it have specific powers beyond advising the president, so their meetings also have something symbolic. In fact, Biden’s opening speech at the cabinet meeting was public and can be interpreted in an electoral key.
Ask for the vote
In a country where there are no time limits on electoral campaigns or legal restrictions on inaugurations and other public events when the vote approaches, Biden bragging about his recent achievements is normal. But he has gone a bit further and has launched, on the one hand, to openly ask for the vote in presidential acts and, on the other, to attack the most extreme Republicans, almost in each of his speeches.
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This Monday, for example, he was in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania), trying to retain the workers’ vote. He intervened as president, within the official agenda of the White House. Even so, he did not cut himself: “We will win if the people vote. So remember everyone: vote. Get out to vote. If we vote, we will win, we will reset this country and make it even better than it was before,” he said in Milkwaukee. In a presidential act in Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) openly asked for the vote for Democratic candidates for governor and senator.
But in addition to asking for the vote, Biden is using his actions as president to attack Republicans. “I have been fighting pharmaceuticals my entire career. And we have finally defeated them. Finally, we defeated the pharmaceutical companies. Without a single Republican vote. Not a single vote”, he frequently highlights.
The main darts go directly against his predecessor, Donald Trump, and his supporters. It was in a party act where he branded his ideology “semi-fascism”, but in institutional interventions he has not been left behind: “It is clear where the new MAGA republicans are going. They are extremists. And democracy is really at stake. You can’t be a democracy if you support violence when you don’t like the outcome of an election.”
The most controversial was the prime-time speech he gave last week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both for the formula and for the chosen scenery. The television networks interpreted that the occasion did not deserve to alter their programming and ignored the president’s speech while it was being produced. When the president addresses the nation in a solemn way, it is common for all channels to connect. In this case, however, they interpreted that there was no reason for it. This was believed, for example, by Marc Thiessen, who wrote the speeches of George W. Bush: “That the incumbent president appropriates the institution of a presidential speech in prime time (…) and uses it for attacks partisans is not a legitimate use of said forum”, wrote in an article on The Washington Post.
The staging was also criticized. Democrats repeatedly criticized during Trump’s term what appeared to be a political use of the military in events where their presence did not seem necessary. Biden was escorted by two soldiers who were part of the set. “The only thing worse than Biden’s speech tearing his fellow citizens apart is that he wraps himself in our flag and the Marines to do it,” Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, Rep. of California, wrote on Twitter, a criticism shared by some veterans’ associations. military.
The only thing worse than Biden’s speech trashing his fellow citizens is wrapping himself in our flag and Marines to do it.
— Rep. Darrell Issa (@repdarrellissa) September 2, 2022
The White House spokeswoman was asked this week about the presence of the military: “It was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect that the President has for these services, for service members, for these ideals and for the unique role they play. our independent military in defense of our democracy, regardless of the party that is in power”, he replied, assuring that he saw it as something normal.
Biden is also mobilizing his cabinet members in this long campaign. On Labor Day, last September 5, it was the secretary of that department, Martin Walsh, a former union member, who accompanied Biden in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And this Thursday it was the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, who dedicated herself during a visit to Detroit (Michigan) to praising Biden’s economic achievements, despite the fact that his profile is more technical than political.
The White House Twitter account has also gone down in the mud in recent weeks. Normally, their messages were institutional and almost bureaucratic, collecting excerpts from the president’s speeches and sharing graphics or infographics rather late. Now he has gone on the attack or, at the very least, on the counterattack. The White House this week has accused all Republican congressmen saying that by voting against the Inflation Reduction Act voted against the “reduction of health and energy costs, the creation of well-paid jobs and a fairer tax system”. Taking into account that more than a month has passed since the Senate voted on that law, it seems clear that the content is partisan and not institutional. It is a line on which he insists: at the end of August the White House published a GIF with the names of the Republican congressmen who had voted against.
This type of non-institutional content has become generalized. “The MAGA agenda promotes blind loyalty to Donald Trump”, the White House tweeted last week. But perhaps the most notorious —and virally successful— of his interventions was the response to Republican congressmen who criticized the partial reduction of university debt as a concession to the privileged. The White House responded with a thread pointing out as hypocrisy that the Republicans criticized the forgiveness of 10,000 or 20,000 euros of student debt when some of them had benefited from hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of debt forgiven under business aid programs because of the pandemic.
The one who has maintained the forms the most has been the spokeswoman for the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre. Although she has shared some attacks on Republicans, in her daily press conferences she always avoids, for example, referring to the investigation into Donald Trump and the search of his house in Mar-a-Lago (Florida). And when she is openly asked about the legislative elections, she avoids it: “I am not going to talk about anything that is related to the mid-term elections or politics. I can’t, being where I am and also given the role that I have,” she has said this week. Meanwhile, Biden sees no problem in campaigning in the role of president.
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