Earlier today, former Vice President Joe Biden stopped at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 159 headquarters in Henderson to speak with union members and local Democrats. In his first swing through the Silver State since becoming a 2020 presidential candidate, Biden invoked the former President Barack Obama whom he served under, condemned the current President Donald Trump whom he’s running against, and called on Democrats to “show [Trump] who we are” while sidestepping the other Democratic candidates’ efforts to show the nation who they are and what they stand for.
Just Biden his time in our fine Silver State
Joe Biden may have only formally announced his 2020 presidential candidacy less than two weeks ago, but he’s already been considered the Democratic frontrunner since pollsters began polling the 2020 election earlier this year. In the past two weeks Biden has already been dominating national media coverage, and he’s already drawn the lion’s share of President Donald Trump’s ire on social media and behind the White House’s closed doors.
While Biden has benefited from his meteoric rise to frontrunner status, some Democrats are starting to wonder whether this rise comes before the fall. Before Biden began forming his campaign, former Assembly Member and NV-04 congressional candidate Lucy Flores (D) penned an op-ed for New York Magazine’s The Cut detailing an “uncomfortable moment” on the campaign trail with Biden in November 2014 that led to additional women accusing Biden of abusing his power through additional “uncomfortable moments”. And right on the heels of Flores’ op-ed, Rebecca Traister also penned a blog post for New York’s The Cut that details Biden’s Congressional record on civil rights and economic justice, a record that doesn’t quite pair well with the increasingly progressive and woke Democratic primary/caucus electorate.
Against this backdrop, Biden is back in Nevada again. And in another interesting twist, just before Biden does a private, high-dollar fundraiser with MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, philanthropist Heather Murren, former State Senator and former U.S. Attorney Greg Brower (R-Reno), and other local celebrities tonight, he came here to the Painters’ Hall to talk about why Nevada Democrats should see him as “Middle Class Joe” and “remember who we are” as Americans.
“It’s the American creed. Decency, honor, dignity, friendship. We don’t want to leave it all behind.”
– Joe Biden
After being introduced by Clark County Democratic Party Chair Donna West (both West herself and the party are officially neutral) and Painters’ Union District Council 16 Regional Manager Jason Lamberth, Biden kicked off his speech with some off-the-cuff remarks on gun violence prevention, as he explained how the 1 October Shooting still weighs heavily on him. Biden proceeded to urge further action on gun violence as he declared, “There’s the Second Amendment, but there’s a way to do it rationally.”
From there, Biden explained why he’s running for president again. According to him, “Decency, honor, integrity. Who we are is at stake.” He then explained why he thinks Donald Trump’s presidency “will be seen as an aberrant moment in our history” if he defeats Trump next year, but “given eight years, this president will fundamentally change our standing in the world.”
He called upon the audience to “remember who we are”. For Biden, that means we’re not like Trump, but rather, “It’s the American creed. Decency, honor, dignity, friendship. We don’t want to leave it all behind.”
“We need to strengthen the backbone of this country: the middle class!”
– Joe Biden
(Editor’s Note: I apologize for the uneven audio and visual quality of the videos below. We had to work through some technical difficulties at today’s event.)
So what else is in Biden’s “American creed”? Here’s where we see “Middle Class Joe” in full force: “We need to strengthen the backbone of this country: the middle class!” He later added, “The moral obligation of our time is rebuilding the middle class and including everyone in it, regardless of your race or your gender or your religion or who you love.”
When he campaigned for (now U.S. Senator) Jacky Rosen (D) and other Democratic candidates at Culinary Union headquarters last October, Biden spoke about the nation’s “basic bargain”. Now that Biden himself is a candidate, he expanded upon that and added praise for the “dignity of work” that evoked the heavy notes of economic justice that defined the brief never-to-be presidential run of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). And in a sense, Biden’s theme of economic justice also evokes Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Massachusetts) call to “dream big, fight hard, and change America,” and Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) call for “political revolution”.
Yet unlike the “big, structural change” that Warren, Sanders, and other progressive candidates are calling for, Biden instead stuck with easier lifts like raising the minimum wage. For Biden, “It’s long past time to raise the minimum wage to $12. We need to raise the wage to $15. Fos should not be working for poverty wages.”
In addition, Biden endorsed efforts to protect workers’ right to form unions, overturn rules changes that have allowed more employers to deny workers overtime pay, boost teacher pay and overall public education investment, and enhance the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare). Unlike Warren, Sanders, and the others who’ve endorsed “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, Biden simply offered, “You should have the chance to buy a public option, like Medicare.”
“It isn’t who we are. We must protect our borders, but we must do it humanely, as we’ve done in past years.”
– Joe Biden
At his debut campaign rally in Pittsburgh last week, Biden and his surrogates tended to downplay civil rights issues and emphasize his economic message. But as progressive activists who work on various causes like to point out, Democrats can’t get away with that here in Nevada. And even though Biden’s campaign didn’t schedule any time for Q&A with either the audience or the press, local military veteran Cesar Lopez nonetheless shouted his question on what Biden will do to help him and other veterans with undocumented status avoid deportation.
Biden’s response? “Anybody who fought for the United States of America should not be deported!” After the event I caught up with Lopez, who expressed his appreciation for Biden’s response and the other Democratic candidates, such as Warren and Sanders, who’ve also promised action to protect veterans and other immigrants Trump is targeting for deportation. Yet like UNLV Immigration Law Clinic’s Michael Kagan and other immigrant rights activists, Lopez hopes these candidates will continue to speak up and say more.
Yet before Lopez spoke up, Biden spoke about immigration reform more in terms of rebuking Trump than pursuing a vast restructuring of the system along the lines of what former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) are proposing. On Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, Biden countered, “It isn’t who we are. We must protect our borders, but we must do it humanely, as we’ve done in past years.” He continued, “It’s being used to demonize people. […] It’s all about dividing us.”
“I choose hope over fear. I choose unity over division. I choose truth over lies. I choose science over fiction.”
– Joe Biden
While other candidates have diagnosed Trump and Trumpism as symptoms of a larger existential threat to American democracy, Biden merely castigated Trump as “aberrant” while talking up the prospect of renewed bipartisanship under a Biden administration. While some Democrats scratch their heads over Biden’s rather interesting take on Republicans’ growing hyper-partisanship while he served in President Barack Obama’s administration, there may be a method to what otherwise appears to be madness.
On one end, Biden is sticking to the “Middle Class Joe” talk and steering clear of other Democratic candidates’ “revolutionary” ideas in hopes of winning over more of the white working-class voters who voted for Trump and may have begun drifting away from Democrats long before Trump announced his first campaign in 2015. Meanwhile on the other end, Biden has already begun winning over “business leaders” and “power players” like Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, and Greg Brower, who’d perhaps be more willing to stay in the Republican fold if it hadn’t become “the party of Trump”.
With both Greg Brower and Painters’ and Carpenters’ Union members in the room, Biden implored upon the entire audience, “We already know who Donald Trump is. We need to show him who we are!” Then in his closing argument, one that Biden may be able to use for both the caucus and the general election, he proclaimed, “I choose hope over fear. I choose unity over division. I choose truth over lies. I choose science over fiction.”