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Politics chat: Biden seeks to differentiate himself from Trump

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I stand here today as the first president to come to Pointe du Hoc when none of those 225 brave men who scaled this cliff on D-Day are still alive - none.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

President Biden returns from France today after a visit to a cemetery outside Paris to honor World War I fighters. And that's after a state visit with French president Emmanuel Macron yesterday and the Friday ceremony on the Normandy coast in which he recalled those 225 World War II Army Rangers.

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BIDEN: They ask us, what will we do? They're not asking us to scale these cliffs, but they're asking us to stay true to what America stands for.

RASCOE: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Biden is scheduled to get back at 3:30 Eastern. What stood out to you from this trip?

LIASSON: What stood out to me was the implicit criticism of Donald Trump in Biden's speeches in Europe. He made a strong defense of democracy. He framed the choice facing the West today as democracy versus dictatorship. He went to the same cemetery in France that President Trump had skipped a visit to in 2018. Reportedly, Trump said at the time that the people who were buried there were suckers and losers. Later, his former chief of staff John Kelly confirmed that.

So he's trying to make an implicit contrast with Trump, who's had more warm words for Vladimir Putin than he has for our NATO allies. Trump famously said that Putin should go ahead and do whatever he wants in Europe, and the U.S. wouldn't come to the aid of NATO allies unless they paid more. You know, Biden went on to say in his speech that isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago, and it's not the answer today. I mean, he's clearly trying to frame this election as a choice between democracy and authoritarianism and isolationism.

RASCOE: I was on that 2018 trip where we skipped the cemetery. I remember what a big deal that was. But there's another big contrast that's happening at the moment, right? And it's happening in courtrooms.

LIASSON: That's right. Trump was found guilty on May 31, and now the president's son, Hunter Biden, is currently on trial for gun charges. But there's been a huge difference between the way these two candidates have approached these trials. Trump's strategy has been to undermine faith in the justice system. He's relentlessly attacked the judge and the system as unfair and rigged. Some of his supporters have called for jailing the prosecutor in the case, Alvin Bragg.

On the other hand, Joe Biden has vowed not to pardon his son, even if he's found guilty. He hasn't made any attacks on the judge or the legal system. He says he will accept the verdict, and he really does believe in the system. And that's another big contrast that he's making with Trump in this election, that Trump wants to undermine democratic institutions, and Biden wants to preserve and strengthen them. The other point that Biden's Democratic allies are making in answer to Trump's argument that somehow the justice system is weaponized against him is that Biden's Department of Justice is currently not only prosecuting the president's son, but they're also prosecuting Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar.

RASCOE: Trump is vowing revenge. Is Project 2025 a part of that or the Washington Post reporting on what the headline calls a, quote, "postconstitutional" second term?

LIASSON: Well, what really strikes me is how openly Trump is running on an authoritarian platform. He wants to expand the powers of the executive, get rid of some of the checks and balances on the president. He's asking the Supreme Court to say that the president is immune from prosecution. He opened his campaign by saying, I'm your retribution. He has openly promised revenge against his enemies. He wants to make the civil service more political, deprofessionalize the civil service. He's doing this quite openly.

RASCOE: Circling back to Trump's convictions in state court in Manhattan, it's been about a week and some change. Is there any fresh indication of how voters are feeling about it?

LIASSON: We have a bunch of polls now that show majorities of independents and swing voters think the guilty verdict was correct. It hasn't changed the race very much but may have around the edges. We see that low-information voters - and a lot of them are young people, people that have been drifting away from Joe Biden, and he really needs to get them back. Many of them say that they approve of the verdict. People have a short attention span. We don't know what's going to happen over time. Will people forget about this verdict, and the race will go back to where it was before and where it's been for quite a while, which is a very close race, with Trump having an edge in the battleground states?

But one thing that the conviction might have done is it helped Biden do something that he's struggled with for months. He's spent tens of millions of dollars trying to make this a choice election rather than a referendum on him. And the verdict makes it a little easier for him to make that argument, to say that Trump only cares about himself and revenging himself and not you. On the other hand, this also has helped Trump because it's fired up his base. They were pretty fired up already, but he's been able to raise tremendous amounts of money after the verdict, closing the funding gap between him and the president.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson, Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LELAND WHITTY'S "SILVER RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.