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Biden speech will address fight for 'the soul of the nation'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden is heading to Pennsylvania tonight, where he will give a rare primetime speech on what the White House calls the battle for the soul of the nation. The speech in downtown Philadelphia is about threats to democracy. It's a return to a message that Biden used in his 2020 campaign. And Biden is expected again to take sharp aim at Republicans tonight. Here to talk about all of this is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So what else can you tell us about what to expect from the president's speech tonight?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden's press secretary, told us to expect the president to speak about how he sees Republican followers of former President Donald Trump as a threat to democracy. Biden says they don't respect the rule of law and that they have refused to accept the results of the election. He calls them MAGA Republicans and says they support a kind of semi-fascism. The president has been more aggressively taking on Republicans in recent weeks, you know, as he did in Maryland last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace - embrace - political violence. They don't believe in democracy.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's really quite a shift from his earlier efforts to find compromise with Republicans over the course of much of his first year.

CHANG: I mean, but this message, it isn't a new area for him, right? Like, why is he giving this speech now? Is he basically - I don't know - just campaigning for the midterms?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Biden has cited recent events as an example of why fighting for democracy is more important than ever. You know, he's pointed to the suppression of voting rights and threats to abortion and reproductive health care, for example. You know, the White House says this is not political. But, I mean, of course, the midterms are just around the corner. You know, I talked with Doug Sosnik. He was a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. You know, he says Biden was struggling but really changed his momentum recently.

DOUG SOSNIK: He was teetering on getting to that point where people just weren't going to pay attention to him and they tuned him out.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, that new momentum has come from his legislative wins and concerns about the abortion ruling in the Supreme Court, as well as the ongoing coverage of Trump's legal problems. And Sosnik says people are now more willing to listen, especially independent voters. You know, he specifically cited new polling that shows independents have moved more into the Democrats' camp before the midterm elections.

SOSNIK: In a world that's increasingly become bifurcated, I mean, to the center. You know, there's 30% of the people out there who are open, you know, to persuasion.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and he said those are the people who are now probably more willing and interested to hear what the president has to say tonight. And that's part of the reason why Biden is giving this primetime address.

CHANG: Well, President Biden's second stop in Pennsylvania, this is his second stop in Pennsylvania in, like, three days, right? And he's going back there again over the long weekend. Can you just explain why there's so much focus on Pennsylvania in particular?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, Biden is from Scranton, and Pennsylvania is where he launched his 2020 campaign. And this week has been kind of a kickoff for Biden, who promises to do more campaigning before the midterms. And Pennsylvania is an incredibly important state in those upcoming races. You know, it has competitive House races and a gubernatorial contest and a key Senate race that could help determine control of the Senate. So there's a lot riding on this period.

CHANG: That is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.

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