Biden Addresses Protests Over George Floyd's Death, Condemns President's Response

Jun 2, 2020
Originally published on June 2, 2020 5:31 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Vice President Joe Biden said today that the country needs to unify but that President Trump won't let that happen.

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JOE BIDEN: The president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem. But this president today is part of the problem and accelerates it.

MARTIN: Biden criticized Trump in a major speech delivered this morning from Philadelphia city hall. NPR's Scott Detrow covers the presidential campaign, and he is with us now to tell us more about it.

Scott, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: What was Biden's main point today?

DETROW: The immediate thing that Biden was responding to was the fact that peaceful protesters seemed to be forcefully cleared out of Lafayette Park last night so that President Trump could walk across it to pose in front of St. John's Church. Biden says that series of events showed, as he put it, that the president is more focused on power than principle.

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BIDEN: The president held up the Bible at St. John's Church yesterday. I just wish he opened it once in a while instead of brandishing it. If he opened it, he could have learned something. We're all called love one another as we love ourselves. It's really hard work, but it's the work of America.

DETROW: The speech did broaden out, though. Biden made the case that President Trump continues to focus on confrontation, and he's shown no interest in trying to unify the country or address any of the issues at the heart of these protests. And this has all really been a central theme of Joe Biden's campaign, and the past week has really made Biden's main (ph) - this campaign is about, as he puts it, the soul of the nation feel much more relevant.

MARTIN: Did Biden say what he would do differently if he were elected?

DETROW: He did. A lot of it got to rhetoric and approach. Biden spoke a lot about trying to be a president for the whole country, not just people who agree with him. But we have heard a lot of criticism of Biden from younger black voters - in particular, the activists out there protesting - that they want specifics. So in this speech, Biden did list several, including supporting bills in Congress that would ban police neck restraints that would scale back the militarization of police departments. And he said he'd push for more federal oversight of local police departments as well, including creating a national police oversight commission within the first hundred days of his presidency.

MARTIN: Well, President Trump is clearly trying to articulate a very different message, and he seems to be - have calculated that voters want him to show strength, at least the people who support him. He spoke yesterday of needing to dominate violent protests, and he sent federal and military resources to Washington, D.C. Did Biden give you a sense of what he thinks voters want?

DETROW: He clearly thinks that voters want something much different, that they want to see empathy among other things. He spoke to people who are upset, saying that he knows what deep pain is like, having lost several members of his family over the years. He talked about the systematic problems that have led to this anger. And he continually went back to the theme that President Trump is making all of this tension, all of this division a lot worse.

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BIDEN: Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this what we want to pass on to our children and our grandchildren - fear, anger, finger-pointing rather than the pursuit of happiness?

DETROW: Michel, there's a big debate, though, as I was saying before, about whether saying I'm not Trump is enough for Biden. And that goes back to the specifics that a lot of younger, more progressive voters really want to see. They want him to lay out a very clear plan for how he deals with all of these problems.

MARTIN: How significant do you think this speech was in terms of what we've seen from Biden as a candidate for some time now?

DETROW: Well, I think it was a big deal, to use a phrase that I guess Joe Biden uses a lot. We've talked a lot about the fact that when he's been out on the campaign trail, rallies and town halls, he's often struggled to make that clear, compelling case for himself or to really excite voters. And it's not often that you would see people leaving Biden rallies charged up. This was different. And to me, it was probably the clearest, most compelling argument he's made for his candidacy the entire election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Scott Detrow.

Scott, thank you.

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