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Biden gives speech on the state of democracy ahead of the midterms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the final days of the midterm election season, President Biden is warning about the state of democracy. In a speech last night near the U.S. Capitol, Biden said there were about 300 candidates running this year who say that they do not accept the fact that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president also talked about political violence. He referred to a man who broke into the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week. The man attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi, and later told police he had a plan to send a message to Democrats.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We don't settle our differences, America, with a riot, a mob or a bullet or a hammer. We settle them peaceably at the ballot box.

MARTIN: NPR political reporter Deepa Shivaram joins us to talk through all these things. Good morning, Deepa.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the White House had billed this speech by the president as an address on democracy. It was interesting to me that of all the places he could have chose to begin, he started the address by recounting that attack on Nancy Pelosi's husband.

SHIVARAM: Yeah, that is how the president started off his speech. And he didn't shy away from going into the details. He talked about how this man who broke into Nancy Pelosi's home and attacked her husband with a hammer was asking, where's Nancy? And he compared it to the January 6 insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol in 2021 and asked the same question. Biden talked about how there's been a rise in political violence against Democrats and Republicans and nonpartisan election workers in the aftermath of the 2020 election. And it's put democracy in a really fragile state.

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BIDEN: We must, with one overwhelming unified voice, speak as a country and say there's no place - no place - for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it's directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.

SHIVARAM: And Biden said that he knows there are worries over the economy and health care, but that the state of democracy is really fragile right now, and it's also at stake in this election.

MARTIN: So there's less than a week of voting before voting wraps up. Millions of Americans have already done so. So if he was trying to gin up support from his base, was this a little late in the game?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, that's a fair question. You know, Biden made it clear in his speech that he was trying to reach all Americans. But you have to keep in mind that this was a political speech. It was an event with the Democratic National Committee, not an address from the White House or on Capitol Hill, though the location was near the U.S. Capitol. And with voting ending on Tuesday, there's definitely a push needed from Democrats to try and motivate some of their voters who haven't been engaged yet with the election or were not planning to get engaged. A number of polls show that voters are concerned about inflation and abortion, but there is also a high concern among Democratic voters about the state of democracy, especially when it comes to protecting the right to vote. But the level of enthusiasm among Democratic voters is far below their Republican counterparts. And according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that we released yesterday, that came up. And in this final push towards Tuesday, Democrats need to ramp up their base, especially in these states where some of these election deniers are running for office, like Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin.

MARTIN: So President Biden gave this address near the U.S. Capitol - of course, the site of the January 6 insurrection. Did Biden go so far as to bring up the name of former President Trump in his remarks?

SHIVARAM: So he didn't mention Trump by name, but he did say that the former president and his big lie have fueled more election deniers like, he mentioned, the hundreds who are running for office this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. He refuses to accept the will of the people. He refuses to accept the fact that he lost.

SHIVARAM: And Biden went beyond Trump too. He said that these MAGA Republicans have emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials. He called it corrosive and destructive. And he did say that he thinks these Republicans are the minority of the party, but he said they were a driving force, and he called them loud and determined.

MARTIN: Deepa Shivaram, thank you so much for your reporting.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.