Obama urges Democrats: ‘Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough’
Former President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, on Tuesday held their first joint event of the 2020 campaign, where Obama warned Democrats against becoming complacent about the presidential election and offered an unusually direct and detailed rebuke of President Donald Trump.
The split-screen appearance of the presumptive Democratic nominee and his former boss came as Biden has enjoyed a run of strong fundraising, while a spate of recent polls have shown him holding as much as a double-digit lead over Trump. Biden’s campaign announced Tuesday that the event had raised $7.6 million from 175,000 grassroots contributors.
But Obama instructed the 120,000 people who logged on to watch that they must not take the election for granted.
“We can’t be complacent or smug or sense that somehow it’s so obvious that this president hasn’t done a good job, because look, he won once,” Obama said.
“This is serious business,” he added. “Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough. And I hold myself and Michelle and our kids to that same standard.”
Throughout their joint appearance, which ran a little more than an hour, Obama — who speaks infrequently about Trump — praised Biden’s character and experience, and cast the president as a grave threat to the character and values of the nation.
He said that Trump exploited and amplified divisions, and expressed concerns about the example he was setting on the world stage, citing his “militarized response to peaceful demonstrators” and saying he “basically threatens and consistently impugns the free press.”
Such an approach, he suggested, emboldened dictators around the world who may doubt they will be held to account by the United States.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump, said in response that the president “makes every decision based on what’s best for the people of the United States, rather than what will make him popular at the United Nations.”
As Obama and Biden assembled on screen, campaigning virtually amid the coronavirus crisis, Trump was on the trail in Arizona, a few days after holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that drew widespread condemnation from public health officials.
“Unlike our current president, we recognize that we have a public health crisis going on,” Obama said, acknowledging that campaign volunteering may look different during the coronavirus outbreak.
Chuckling incredulously, he invoked the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
“Poor Dr. Fauci, who’s having to, you know, testify and then see his advice flouted by the person he’s working for,” Obama said.
In April, after Biden had effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination, Obama released a video endorsing his former running mate, urging party unity around Biden’s candidacy and making overtures in particular to the younger, liberal supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
On Tuesday, he spoke directly to younger Americans who are pressing for structural changes to address matters from racism to economic inequality to global warming.
There is a “great awakening” among young people in particular, he said, who are “fed up with the shambolic, disorganized, mean-spirited approach” to governance in recent years, and want to tackle “some of the core challenges that have been facing this country for centuries.”
But he also stressed the need to connect that ambition to electoral participation. Throughout the primary, Biden struggled to excite young Democratic voters, but he will need to find ways to turn many of them out in the general election.
“Just because this energy is out there, it does not mean that it assures our victory,” he said. “And it does not mean that it gets channeled in a way that results in real change.”
Obama also headlined a smaller virtual gathering Tuesday for big donors that raised another $3.4 million.
Throughout the grassroots event, Biden frequently expressed agreement with his former boss, whom he called “Mr. President,” as they discussed issues including health care access and foreign policy.
They bantered some about Biden’s age — 77 — and the former vice president invoked the baseball player Satchel Paige. In Biden’s telling, Paige’s philosophy toward age was, “ ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’ I agree with Satchel Paige, I’m 50,” Biden said.
He also spoke passionately about the need to fight racism and spoke expansively about the evolution of civil rights in America. In the 1960s, he said, white Americans saw shocking images of the police like Alabama’s Bull Connor attacking Black Americans with fire hoses, “and they’re going, ‘Oh my God. It really is happening.’ They saw it in black and white, no pun intended, because that’s what most TVs were at the time.”
In contrast to the 1960s, he said, when it comes to civil rights and civic engagement, “this time around there is a much broader participation.”
That level of engagement gave both Obama and Biden hope, they said.
“Love you, Joe,” Obama signed off.
“Love you, too, pal,” Biden said.
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