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Biden takes his case to two swing states for Labor Day in midterms push

Biden took aim at so-called MAGA Republicans and Wisconsin's GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in battleground speeches.
President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden salutes before he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Aug. 26.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

President Joe Biden kicked off a Labor Day tour of two battleground states with rousing speeches in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, where he touted his recent wins in Washington, denounced Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump and took specific aim at Sen. Ron Johnson.

"This guy never stops," Biden said of Johnson, R-Wis., referring to recent positions Johnson has taken.

"But guess what? I ain't stopping, either," Biden said to a raucous round of applause.

As he later did in Pittsburgh, Biden highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act, the sweeping climate, health care and tax bill that he signed into law last month, which included a cap on insulin prices for Medicare patients. Johnson voted against the measure.

"We beat pharma this year," Biden said, his voice rising. "And it mattered. We’re going to change people’s lives.”

Biden leaned into his accomplishments on health care and aid to seniors at the same time Democrats here have homed in on the issue in the Senate race against Johnson — one of the most significant in the country as the balance of the Senate is at stake in November.

Johnson had said funding for Medicare and Social Security should be reviewed every year, rather than automatically included in the budget. His comments sparked a spree of attacks as critics accused him of trying to end the programs (Johnson has denied that).

Johnson's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, did not appear at the event. Gov. Tony Evers, however, did speak. Evers is competing against Republican Tim Michels in a race that is in a dead heat.

Biden also spent part of his speech underscoring remarks he delivered last week in Philadelphia, where he lambasted segments of the Republican Party that had embraced extreme views led by Trump. In his speech last week, Biden said followers of Trump’s Make America Great Again philosophy, especially those who refused to condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, represented an existential threat to democracy.

On Monday, Biden again denounced Trump's followers while noting that not all Republicans support his worldview.

"I want to be very clear upfront. Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. Not every Republican embraces that extreme MAGA ideology. I know, because I've been able to work with mainstream Republicans my whole career," Biden said. "But the extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division. But together we can and we must choose a different path forward."

Taking aim at Johnson again, Biden said: “To this day, MAGA Republicans in Congress defend the mob that stormed the Capitol. People died there. Senator Johnson said it was by and large a peaceful protest. Have you seen the videos of what happened that day?”

In Pittsburgh, Biden delivered a similar speech at the United Steelworkers of America Local Union 2227. It was Biden's third visit to Pennsylvania in recent days.

The Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, posed for photos with Biden before Monday's event and then delivered remarks prior to the president taking the stage. Fetterman did not join Biden at either of his appearances last week in Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia.

Biden's speech in Pittsburgh again underscored his recent legislative accomplishments and he praised Fetterman, saying he wanted to be next to him if he were “in a fox hole.” Unlike the president's verbal lashing of Johnson in Milwaukee, however, Biden did not train on Fetterman's opponent, Mehmet Oz.

Instead, the president again condemned MAGA Republicans, saying, "democracy is at stake." He also again criticized Johnson's position on Social Security and Medicare.

Fetterman, who has led Oz in recent polls, had said he was hoping to discuss legalizing marijuana with the president during his Labor Day visit. As the November elections quickly approach, some Democratic candidates have sought to distance themselves from the president. Democratic candidates for federal office are outperforming Biden in their state polls, even as his approval numbers are on the rise.

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, declined to say in an interview Monday whether Biden's appearance benefits or harms his campaign.

“I don’t take my cues from Washington, D.C. I take my cues from Washington County, Pennsylvania," he said. "That’s the folks I listen to. I’m trying to lead Pennsylvania forward."