Florida isn’t friendly territory for Democrats, and hasn’t been for a little while. But Joe Biden comes bearing a message particularly suited to the Sunshine State and its sizable population of retirees: Republicans, including some prominent ones from Florida, are threatening Social Security and Medicare—but he and the Democrats have set out to stop them. It’s far from certain that the appeal from Biden—or Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited Tallahassee last month—will help the party make inroads in a state Donald Trump won by three points in 2020, that Ron DeSantis won by almost 20 points in November, and that the governor and Republican-dominated legislature have fashioned into something of a petri dish for far-right policy. At the same time, the president’s trip to Tampa this Thursday will be riding on a winning populist message and a wave of new momentum from an impressive State of the Union address earlier this week.
“They have not given up,” Florida Democrat Kathy Castor, who will join Biden during his visit to University of Tampa, told Politico, praising the administration for continuing to “invest” in the state. “They are going to fight.”
The trip comes as Biden prepares to launch his presumptive reelection bid, despite polling that’s suggested a lack of enthusiasm for another run. It also comes two days after a commanding address to a joint session of Congress, during which he got the better of his rowdy GOP hecklers by essentially forcing them to take entitlement cuts off the table in their debt-ceiling showdown.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden said at one point in his speech, referring to proposals some in the GOP, including Florida Senator Rick Scott, have put forth (but have since tried to disavow). “Liar!” Marjorie Taylor Greene hollered in response, as her fellow Republicans booed and jeered.
The president, unfazed by the heckling, joked that he appreciated the party’s “conversion” on the issue. “We all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” Biden said. “Alright.”
It was one of the best moments in a speech full of zingers, and made for a clear contrast between his vow to defend the programs and the equivocation by some Republicans on the issue, which Biden continued to hammer on during a trip Wednesday to Wisconsin, another state that could prove key to the presidential race in 2024. “They seemed shocked,” Biden said of the GOP reaction to his speech, before reading direct quotes from proposals by Scott and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson to let all federal legislation, including entitlement programs, sunset after a certain length of time.
That’s forced Scott to do some clumsy damage control, in which the Florida Republican and former National Republican Senatorial Committee chair has denied putting those programs on the chopping block, despite doing precisely that. “He’s a liar,” Scott said of Biden after the State of the Union. “It doesn’t resonate.”
That last part could be true: Biden’s rebukes of MAGA extremism over the last two years haven’t seemed to knock Republicans off their course, particularly in Florida, one of the few bright spots for the GOP in the 2022 midterms. But Biden’s warnings may have even more weight now. He won in 2020 by pitting his decency and stability against Trump’s cruel demagoguery and chaos. The State of the Union may have given him and the Democrats a new distinction to make—between the their focus on issues that actually impact the American people and the GOP’s fundamental lack of seriousness and substance. “Clearly, having the House Republican caucus behaving the way they are, and are signaling strongly they will continue to behave, is going to give the president an easy contrast,” as senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn told the New York Times. “What the House Republican caucus is doing for him is giving him a way to draw a contrast between what he is for—what he’s trying to get done, and who he’s trying to get it done for—with House Republicans.”
Will that do anything to loosen the GOP’s death grip on Florida? Hard to say. But it’s certainly a welcome sight to watch Biden, after getting the better of Republicans earlier this week, bring the fire to the backyard of DeSantis, Scott, and Trump. “We want this fight,” as a senior White House official told CNN. “We relish this fight.”
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