In his only mention of Nikki Haley, Biden takes a jab at Trump for being ‘confused’
COLUMBIA — Seeking another slingshot from South Carolina to the White House, President Joe Biden pitched a list of successes to the party faithful with the refrain of “promises made, promises kept.” His speech ended with a simple request: “Vote!”
Biden headlined the state Democratic Party’s “First-in-the-Nation Celebration” dinner as part of an all-out effort to jumpstart sagging enthusiasm for his re-election in the state that bolted his 2020 campaign from fifth place to first.
“If you ever doubt that the power to change America is in your hands, remember this: You proved it. You’re the reason I’m president,” he told a crowd of about 800 at the State Fairgrounds.
“You’re the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president,” he continued to loud applause. “You’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser, and you’re the reason we’re going to win and beat him again.”
The crowd then chanted “four more years” to drown out protesters of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Later, another protester was removed by security after yelling about being “scared for my future” due to climate change. All protesters were well dressed to get in the door.
The fundraiser, with ticket costs starting at $150 per person, was held a week out from the nation’s first Democratic primary recognized by the party. His win over two little-known candidates is a foregone conclusion. Even his closest competitor, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota — who spoke earlier in the night — expects Biden to take nearly all of South Carolina’s primary votes.
The push for a big turnout is about creating momentum and galvanizing support among Black voters, who make up a large part of South Carolina’s Democratic base, after national polls showed a steep decline in Biden’s support among Black and young voters, both key constituencies.
Successes he highlighted in his roughly 25-minute speech included investing $7 billion in historically black colleges and canceling more than $130 billion in student debt, despite the U.S. Supreme Court striking down his first loan forgiveness program as outside his authority.
“The Supreme Court blocked me but didn’t stop me,” Biden said.
He heralded appointing the first Black woman to the nation’s high court, noting that it was in South Carolina (during his 2020 campaign) that he first made the promise to do so.
“By the way, she’s smarter than the rest,” he said of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
He stressed appointing a historic number of Black females to the federal bench. He specifically named Judge Michelle Childs, “who’s making South Carolina proud” on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
He also touted declining inflation rates.
“The cost of eggs, milk, chicken, gas, and so many other essential items have come down,” he said, without mentioning that it’s coming down from a four-decade high in 2022 and remains higher than when he took office.
“We’re making progress. There’s a lot more on the way,” he said, blaming American corporations for “ripping people off.” Noting the smaller size of a Snickers bar, he also pledged to end “shrinkflation.”
While South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary is still a month away, Biden made clear he expects to face Trump in November.
The only time he mentioned former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the lone Republican still challenging Trump for the nomination, was to make fun of Trump’s apparent mental blip.
“By the way, have you noticed? He’s a little confused these days. He appeared to confuse Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi,” he said to laughter about a gaffe that Haley has also highlighted to question Trump’s fitness.
The quick reference by Biden, who at 81 is already the nation’s oldest president, served as a counterpunch to questions of his mental acuity.
Biden’s criticism of Trump in a state with a large veteran population became especially intense as he talked of the former president making derogatory comments about captured or killed American military members. According to reports in fall 2020 that Trump denied, he called the Americans buried at a World War I cemetery in France “losers” and “suckers” when he declined to visit the memorial in 2018.
“The only loser I see is Donald Trump,” Biden said to raucous applause, adding, “I apologize for losing my temper, but it really, really, really offends me.”
Goals left on his to-do list, Biden said, include immigration reform, banning assault weapons, and reinstating national access to abortion that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that upended a half-century of precedent following Roe v. Wade.
“Imagine a future where we restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” he said of the 1973 ruling that guaranteed access through the second trimester.
Thousands in pockets
A conservative group backing Haley criticized Biden’s visit as pure politics, saying he’s here to “score political points” rather than address how his economic policies have impacted hardworking South Carolinians.
“While the Biden Administration quietly moves away from the term ‘Bidenomics,’ South Carolinians won’t forget the financial hardship that their top-down policies from Washington have caused them,” Candance Carroll, state director of American for Prosperity, said in a statement.
It’s true that Biden never used the term he once peppered into speeches. Instead, he reminded voters of putting money in their pockets through stimulus checks.
“Let’s get something straight: Trump talks about putting checks in pockets but in 2021, as soon as I came in office, I was the guy sending everybody $1,400 checks,” he said, adding that families also received up to $300 per child monthly through 2021. “That was thousands of dollars in pockets to get people through a real crisis.”
The final round of stimulus checks, approved by Congress in March 2021, provided $1,400 per person or $2,800 to married couples. It was the largest round, totaling $401.5 billion. The first two rounds of stimulus were signed by Trump and totaled $413 billion for both.
Prestine Alexander, a 70-year old retiree from St. Helana Island, acknowledged the drop in enthusiasm among young and Black voters. She attributes it to them thinking their vote doesn’t matter, which the Biden campaign’s push in South Carolina seeks to address.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Alexander, who’s active in the Beaufort County Democratic Party.
She’s supporting Biden, she said, because “he’s for all of us. He’s not for white Americans. He’s not for Black Americans.”
The dinner marked Biden’s second visit to South Carolina this month. Earlier in January, he gave a campaign speech at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine Black worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist in 2015. Vice President Kamala Harris has also been here twice this month. And first lady Jill Biden attended two events Friday in Columbia.
In South Carolina, about a quarter of all registered voters are Black, although they generally make up more than half of the voters in the state’s Democratic primary.
Abraham Kenmore is a reporter covering elections, health care and more. He joins the SC Daily Gazette from The Augusta Chronicle, where he reported on Georgia legislators, military and housing issues.