Biden embraces bully pulpit as he escalates fight against Trump and GOP over Russia

President Joe Biden is embracing his bully pulpit as he calls out resistance from former President Donald Trump and Republicans on Ukraine and Russia.

The tactic – which is playing out mostly in off-camera fundraisers and in public events - has become more pronounced in recent days as the president has latched on to House Republicans’ refusal to approve additional aid for Ukraine and Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn Russia for the death of Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s top critic.

The president has turned up the heat on Trump and Republicans in California this week in a series of fundraisers, venues where the president tends to speak a bit more freely and bluntly.

At a San Francisco fundraiser Wednesday, Biden referred to Putin as a “crazy SOB” and said Trump’s comments on Navalny were confounding.

“He’s comparing himself to Navalny and saying that because our country’s become a communist country, he was persecuted, just like Navalny was persecuted,” Biden said. “Where the hell does this comes from? If I stood here 10 to 15 years ago and said all this, you’d all think I should be committed.”

The bully pulpit approach comes as the president is eager to put Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric front and center as the 2024 race heats up. Biden has directed his senior campaign team to more aggressively call out the “crazy s***” Trump says.

In repeatedly assailing Trump and his party from the White House, Biden also hopes to illustrate the stakes of the upcoming election and demonstrate his own efforts to unite the west against Russian aggression. House Republicans have scuttled efforts to pass a bipartisan border security bill and additional assistance for Ukraine – both at Trump’s urging.

“Look at what they are doing with the national security supplemental bill that provides assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Palestinian people. Nothing. Not a single thing. Why? Because that’s what Donald Trump tells them to do,” Biden told donors at a private fundraiser in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Wednesday, at another high-dollar event in the Bay Area, Biden said the current crop of GOP lawmakers was “worse” than Strom Thurmond, a former Democratic-turned-Republican senator with staunch segregationist views.

“I’ve been a senator since ‘72. I’ve served with real racists. I’ve served with Strom Thurmond. I’ve served with all these guys that have set terrible records on race. But guess what? These guys are worse. These guys do not believe in basic democratic principles,” Biden said.

Biden, who delivered a eulogy for Thurmond and came under fire in the 2020 Democratic primary for touting his past working relationship with segregationists, went on to say, “By the time Strom left - he did terrible things - but by the time he left he had more African American in his staff than any other member in the United States Congress. He voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.”

“I’m not making him more than he was. But my point is at least you could work with some of these guys,” Biden continued. “Time and again Republicans show they are the party of chaos and party of division.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson responded on social media, saying “Outrageous. The least popular President to seek re-election is now so desperate and so underwater in the polls he’s playing the race card from the bottom of the deck.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby warned Thursday about the “deepening” military ties between Russia and Iran that are helping to support the war against Ukraine, as he continued to press Congress on Ukraine aid.

“Consider what Ukraine is up against. Russia is receiving arms and ammunition from Iran and North Korea. We also remain concerned about the support that PRC companies are providing to the Russian defense industrial base. Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives is leaving Ukraine to fend for themselves. Do not think for a moment that Vladimir Putin isn’t capitalizing on all of this,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby added that the administration thinks that Putin believes now is his “best chance to bring Ukraine to its knees.”

‘Aghast’ at Trump’s comments on Putin and NATO

Biden has grown personally incensed over Trump not condemning Putin for Nalvany’s death as well as encouraging the Russian leader to do “whatever the hell they want” to countries not meeting NATO obligations.

The president was “aghast” at Trump’s NATO remark, one official said, and wanted to respond personally. He’s now repeatedly lambasted Trump for the comment, including in a video taped in the White House Roosevelt Room where Biden blasted his predecessor by name – a move he’s typically reserved for private fundraisers and the campaign trail, but which is now playing out with more frequency from White House grounds.

The shift is notable for a president who appeared loathe to even mention Trump by name for the first years of his presidency.

“Trump gave an invitation to Putin to invade some of our ally, NATO allies,” Biden said earlier this month. “No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Well, let me say this as clearly as I can: I never will.”

Standing beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the president added, “For God’s sake, it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous, it’s un-American.”

One week later, Biden blasted Trump for a social media post that avoided condemning Putin for Navalny’s death and instead painted the United States as a “nation in decline.”

“Why does Trump always blame America? Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. Why can’t Trump just say that?” Biden said in a White House video released Tuesday.

The president has repeatedly warned Ukrainian soldiers would be severely limited on the battlefield without more ammunition and assistance. The White House has directly blamed congressional inaction for Ukraine’s military withdrawal from the key town of Avdiivka over the weekend, and the president has said he’s not confident more towns won’t fall in the coming months.

House Republicans have so far refused to take up a bill that would provide more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine. The president has grown heated as he’s criticized the House for taking a two-week break as the national security supplement request languishes.

“Two weeks, they’re walking away. Two weeks,” Biden said raising his voice during a White House event. What are they thinking? My God, this is bizarre, and it’s just reinforcing all of the concern and almost – I won’t say panic – but real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous.”

Will it work?

Even as the president engages in this pressure campaign, it’s unclear whether resistant Republicans will be swayed or if voters will take the foreign policy debate into consideration when they cast votes in November.

Foreign policy is rarely at the center of presidential campaigns, often obscured by domestic or economic concerns. Even amid the current debate over Russia, Biden’s team doesn’t expect foreign affairs will factor heavily into voters’ decision-making.

Still, Biden’s team believes the Russia issue provides a convenient point of contrast between the two men, and serves as a reminder of the kind of president Trump would be if he were to win another term.

Last week, the Biden campaign unveiled a new digital ad blasting Trump’s comment about NATO, in which a narrator claimed Trump has “even given Putin and Russia the greenlight to attack America’s allies.”

Part of a three-week, six-figure digital ad campaign, the spot is set to run through Super Tuesday targeting voters in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The campaign said it was looking to reach more than 2.5 million Americans who identify as Estonian, Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian and Polish — all NATO countries bordering Russia.

The targeted play for voters with ties to countries in Russia’s backyard comes as recent polling shows American support for keeping NATO intact and sending more assistance to Ukraine.

A recent Quinnipiac poll found two-thirds of voters – 67% - believe NATO plays an important role in global security and would like to see the US remain part of the alliance. More than half of voters – 5% – believe the US should send more military aid to Ukraine amid its war against Russia.

The same poll found 71% of voters believe Trump saying he would not protect NATO countries who fail to meet their obligations and encouraging Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to those countries is a “bad idea.”

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