WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden traveled to Florida on Thursday, taking his post-State of the Union roadshow directly to the epicenter of the Republican Party.
Florida is not only home to the two top contenders for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in 2024, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, but also Republican Sen. Rick Scott, whom the president has tried to cast as the leading opponent to Medicare and Social Security.
Biden said he would use the trip to tout his successes, arguing people are just not familiar with what his administration has accomplished.
“We just got to make sure everybody knows what we’ve done. Watch how it unfolds and see what happens,” Biden said Wednesday in an interview with PBS.
In his speech on Thursday at the University of Tampa, Biden talked about Medicare and Social Security, a continuation of his State of the Union address in which he vowed to protect the two social safety net programs.
"I know that a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Well let me tell you this — if that's your dream, I'm your nightmare," he said to loud cheers from the audience.
Florida-based Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Biden’s Tuesday address "wasn’t your typical State of the Union, it was a misleading and divisive partisan speech which signaled the unofficial kickoff of his 2024 reelection bid. And it is no mistake that Biden is going to Florida soon after the address. Florida is not only the epicenter of today’s GOP, but it is home to the largest senior population in the country."
In the address, Biden pointed to Scott's proposal to automatically sunset government programs every five years, requiring Congress to continue to renew them with a new vote. Biden argued that the proposal would effectively end Social Security and Medicare.
"Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s a majority," Biden said, while being interrupted by a chorus of "boos" from Republican lawmakers.
"Anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy. I’ll give you a copy of the proposal," he added.
On Wednesday at an event in Wisconsin, Biden held up a copy of Scott's proposal.
"I got his brochure right here,” said Biden, who held it up and read from it, “All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
In his speech on Thursday, Biden again went after Scott and referenced what happened during the State of the Union.
"The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years, I find to be somewhat outrageous — so outrageous you might not even believe it," Biden said.
In a preview of the type of criticism DeSantis is likely to lob at Biden, the governor held a press conference on Wednesday with stacks of boxes of gas stoves behind him — a nod to the outrage du jour, the claim that the Biden administration is going to ban gas stoves in the name of safety and protecting the environment (the administration has said it is not.) The governor has proposed making gas stoves tax-exempt.
The White House has simultaneously argued the president is interested in bipartisanship while taking swipes at Republicans.
“You heard an optimistic speech from him about the future, how he sees the next two years, and he’ll continue to do that,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday. “He’ll continue to talk about not betting against the American people, how we need to be optimistic, how he’s willing to work across the aisle.”
But O'Connell, who served as a surrogate for Trump in the White House and on the campaign trail, said Trump and DeSantis may opt to ignore Biden in their state.
"Biden is trying to make the case that he is ready for the fight despite the mounting criticism within his own party," O'Connell said. "Trump and DeSantis could very well remain silent during the trip because both men would love nothing more than to face Biden in the general election.”
The White House on Thursday took another swipe at Scott, who defended his proposal during an interview with CNN, saying, "If you care about preserving Medicare and Social Security, we will figure out how to start living within our means."
Scott responded by challenging Biden to a debate.
"Since you can’t stop talking about me and lying to Floridians about Social Security and Medicare, I’m sure you’ll accept my invitation to debate the issue," he wrote on Twitter. "I’ll be back in Florida tonight. You pick the time and place."