WASHINGTON (AP) – A month into his presidency, Joe Biden made clear his reluctance to even name the man he ousted from the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.”
“Over the next four years, I want to make sure all the news gets to the American people,” he said at a CNN town hall.
But now Biden is busy naming and highlighting names the former “former guy” in prepared remarks and on social media, elevating Donald Trump in a way Biden and the White House staff have not done in the first 18 months of his tenure.
Biden spoke virtually to a group of black law enforcement officials last week and accused the former president of fomenting a “medieval hell.” for police officers who fought off Jan. 6 rioters, adding that “Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.”
Biden’s Twitter feed echoed those words — a harrowing sight for a White House that has attempted to erase all references to the former president, and his name in particular.
And when Biden emerged from isolation afterwards After a battle with COVID-19, he specifically noted that he could continue working from the White House residence while Trump had to be flown to the hospital for treatment based on his own diagnosis, at a time when vaccines were not yet available and the then-President was taking a cavalier approach to mitigation.
For some Democrats, Biden’s willingness to engage directly with Trump was overdue.
“It’s like Lord Voldemort, right? You have to say his name and show you’re not afraid of him,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y. “It’s good to see the President calling Donald Trump like we all should.”
Biden’s increasingly combative stance comes with a torrent of revelations about Trump and his conduct during the riot in the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and amid growing speculation that the Republican will launch a comeback bid as early as this fall.
Despite Biden’s falling approval ratingseven among members of his own party, he still consolidates the vast majority of Democratic voters behind him when presented as the party’s choice against Trump in a hypothetical 2024 campaign.
Biden’s first major effort to focus on Trump came on Jan. 6, 2022, when he delivered a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the riots. Biden condemned his predecessor for holding a “dagger to democracy’s throat” by repeatedly spreading debunked lies that Trump did not lose in 2020.
But even then, Biden refused to call Trump by name, prompting questions as to why.
“I didn’t want to make it a contemporary political fight between me and the President,” Biden said after his speeches in the Capitol. “It goes way beyond that.”
Other Democrats say Biden, who campaigned to unify a country divided by partisans, was right to steer the spotlight away from Trump at a time when Democrats had regained control of Washington for the first time in a decade and were ready to to pursue an ambitious agenda and further from the chaotic Trump years.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he too is struggling to focus on the former president after Trump left office.
“I think a lot of us were just hoping that he would go away and if we stopped talking about him, everyone else would stop talking about him,” he said. “But that’s not how it happened. He’s running for President and he’s still leading the Republican Party, and I don’t think we can break loose anymore.”
For the past week, Biden has left no doubt that he was ready — perhaps even eager — to directly challenge Trump in a way he had never done before.
In recorded remarks At the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Biden repeatedly referred to the “defeated” former president, who did nothing as law enforcement officials worked for hours to protect the Capitol while lawmakers met to confirm Biden’s victory.
“The police officers were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act,” said Biden in his remarks. “The brave women and men in blue of this nation should never forget that.”
Biden’s Twitter feeds reinforced those words and fueled his repeated references to Trump. A tweet a day later noted that the “ex-president” opposes limiting “military-style weapons,” which Biden says must be banned.
Biden’s release from isolation on Wednesday and his solemn remarks in the rose garden gave him another opportunity to address Trump and their differences on another topic.
“When my predecessor contracted COVID, he had to be flown by helicopter to Walter Reed Medical Center. He was seriously ill. Luckily he recovered,” Biden said. “When I got COVID, I was working from upstairs in the White House.” Biden stressed that the vaccines, home testing and antiviral treatments he enjoyed during his recovery were readily available to the American public.
White House staffers believe those two issues — law and order and managing the pandemic — are among the areas where Biden can provide the strongest contrast to the previous administration. Biden himself has made no secret of his hunger to face Trump again, recently telling an Israeli TV channel that he would be “not disappointed” about a potential rematch.
As for the former president, Biden’s tweets and comments have not surfaced in recent calls between Trump advisers, according to two people familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks.
“Joe Biden and the Democrats are destroying America just as President Trump predicted he would,” said Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich. “From a domestic recession to wars abroad, Joe Biden has nothing to say that would distract from the suffering he has inflicted on the American people. His interns should stop writing lame tweets and start writing a resignation letter.”
Biden’s new, more confrontational stance is another way the White House has tried to draw a clearer contrast with Republicans ahead of the November election, as Democrats grapple with traditional incumbent headwinds and dissatisfaction among voters Voters are struggling over inflation and the general direction of the country.
Republicans are skeptical the strategy will work, even as Trump flirts with formally announcing a 2024 bid ahead of the fall vote. They also fear his candidacy could divert focus from the GOP’s efforts to turn the election into a referendum on how Democrats govern Washington.
“I get it. If I were being blamed for 9.1% inflation and a shaky economy and disorder on the southern border, I’d probably try to change the subject, too,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No 2 in the Senate.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Biden’s largely dovish public persona and cautious tendencies have made him appealing to a broad mass of voters.
“But I think he’s coming to the same conclusion that the majority of the country has come to, which is that the former president attempted a coup d’état,” Schatz said. “Although President Biden tries to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, I believe he has established that there is no other way to say it.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.