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Biden's 2024 campaign message comes into sharper focus after South Carolina speech

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden's 2024 campaign message is coming into sharper focus after a speech in South Carolina. During a visit to Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Biden drew a connection between the racist murders of nine Black churchgoers in 2015 and what his campaign asserts is an ongoing threat to democracy from the far right.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The word of God was pierced by bullets and hate, rage, propelled by not just gunpowder but by a poison. Poison that has, for too long, haunted this nation. What is that poison? White supremacy.

MARTIN: Now, in the polls, many voters say they are most concerned about things like the cost of living, the economy in general, crime and border security. So why is the president focusing on the threat from extremism? We're going to ask Jaime Harrison that. He is the chair of the Democratic National Committee. He's a native of South Carolina who formerly led the Democratic Party and has run for office there. Good morning.

JAIME HARRISON: Good morning. Good morning.

MARTIN: So President Biden talked a lot about the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol in his speech at Mother Emanuel. And he talked about how the former president - the Republican frontrunner, now - played a role in it. But the massacre in Charleston was in 2015. That's the year before Donald Trump was elected president. So what does one have to do with the other?

HARRISON: Yeah. You know, the president's visit was also very personal. He attended services after the massacre at Mother Emanuel, and he prayed with the parishioners there. There's a special bond that Joe Biden has between the Black community and with him that he understands the pain, but he also understands the joy. And part of his visit yesterday was about that connection.

MARTIN: I understand that, but what's the connection to Donald Trump, per se?

HARRISON: Well, the connection is that Donald Trump is a threat to that freedom. Donald Trump, a man who, you know, remember, the president got into this race because he said we're battling for the soul of this nation. When he saw that the president of the United States was saying that fine people are on both sides when talking about the hatred we saw in Charlottesville - and so that hatred in Charlottesville was also - it's just an extension of the hatred we saw at Mother Emanuel in terms of Confederate flag, in terms of believing white supremacy in this nation. And folks who understand that battle for that type of freedom to live the American dream, to be treated equally, are the Black folks and particularly Black folks in South Carolina, where 40% of enslaved people came into this country through that port of Charleston. And so the president was there reconnecting with folks that - who have endured so much pain but at the same time, understood the joy of coming together as a community.

MARTIN: Do you think that that is a message that resonates with voters across, I would say, age and experience who live different lives? I'm thinking here about the influential radio show and talk show host Charlamagne tha God who says 2024 is a race between the cowards, the crooks and the couch. And his argument here is that the couch is a viable opportunity for people who don't think that either candidate really speaks to their concerns, meaning that people can just stay home. Do you think that this is a message which resonates kind of across different groups who perhaps don't share the president's life experiences or the experiences of a lot of the people who go to that church?

HARRISON: Well, this is the thing - in terms of what impacted that church, young folks, old folks and everything in between were impacted by what happened there. The racial animosity, racial hatred, the impact that racism still has knows no age, knows no bounds. I think that resonates with everybody.

MARTIN: Protesters interrupted the speech to draw Biden's attention to the war in Hamas - Israel's war in Hamas, and on Hamas. Listen to how that sounded.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If you really care about the lives lost here, then you should honor the lives lost and call for a cease-fire in Palestine.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Cease-fire now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Cease-fire now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Cease-fire now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Cease-fire now.

MARTIN: And this is how the president responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I understand their passion, and I've been quietly working. I've been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza.

MARTIN: Mr. Chairman, are you at all concerned that this anger about this quiet approach puts his reelection at risk?

HARRISON: Well, the president is going to do what he believes is the right thing to do not because it's the politically tested thing to do, but it's the right thing to do. You know, one of the things that is really important for folks to understand is that you've got to sometimes think about whether this harms your effort, whether it helps your effort. There were a lot of folks in that church because remember, there were nine lives lost their lives in that church. Some of the elders in that church turned to me shortly after, and many of them were triggered by this incident, thinking that it was some incident of violence.

And so we really, I think, for these type of efforts, you got to think about it. You got to think about the place you're doing it, think about the time. But I thought the president addressed the issue with the grace that he always does, with the empathy that he always does. He is doing the best that he can to try to do the right thing in this situation.

MARTIN: That's Jaime Harrison. He's the chair of the Democratic National Committee. And as we said, he's a native of South Carolina. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for talking with us.

HARRISON: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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