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‘I can’t help you’: Biden jabs at Trump during Southwest swing

President mocked his expected general election foe’s financial woes at fundraiser

President Joe Biden gives a speech at Intel Ocotillo Campus on Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz.
President Joe Biden gives a speech at Intel Ocotillo Campus on Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden hit three Southwest states this week, including two battlegrounds he is desperately trying to hold onto, taking direct aim at Donald Trump at each stop.

Increasingly, the incumbent president and presumed Democratic nominee is following the presumed GOP nominee’s lead in taking personal shots at his opponent — yet another indication the race will be as much about insults as policy plans. Biden’s willingness to go right after Trump was on display during official White House and campaign events this week in Nevada, Arizona and Texas.

“Just the other day, a defeated-looking guy came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, I need your help. I’m being crushed with debt. I’m completely wiped out.’ I had to say, ‘Donald, I can’t help you,'” Biden quipped to donors Wednesday evening in Dallas, alluding to the former president facing over $400 million in fines from civil cases in New York state. Trump’s lawyers have said in court filings the real estate executive lacks that much cash.

Biden also warned about Trump’s veiled threats of possible violence if he loses in November, saying: “The greatest threat he poses is to our democracy.” At another stop, Biden also slammed what he dubbed Trump’s “demagoguery.”

The three-state swing also saw the president warn a second Trump term would fundamentally change decades of U.S. foreign policy and Washington’s global alliances. “He recently hosted Viktor Orban — prime minister of Hungary — at Mar-a-Lago. Orban says he doesn’t think democracy works. That’s who he admires the most,” Biden said of that country’s hard-line leader, who Trump often praises during public remarks.

Eager to also maintain his large campaign cash-on-hand advantage over the presumptive Republican nominee, who is draining his 2024 coffers to pay legal fees, Biden was the main event at five fundraisers during the three-day trip. He won Arizona and Nevada in 2020, and his campaign boldly stated in a Monday memo it hopes to move Texas into its column in November — despite Trump’s polling lead there.

As the NCAA basketball tournaments tipped off this week, Biden spent time with voters and donors, many of whom likely will be rooting for hoops teams from the Mountain West and Big 12 conferences. Like during a stop last week in Wisconsin, also a crucial swing state, Biden held two official White House events announcing millions in federal funds for projects in Nevada and Arizona. As the Southwest tour ended Thursday in Houston, the president’s approval rating, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of multiple polls, was 40.2 percent — the first time it passed 40 percent since Oct. 26, when it stood at 40.3 percent. (The site only tracks candidate Trump’s favorable-unfavorable rating, which was at 42.6 percent on Thursday, down from a recent high of 44 percent on Feb. 28.)

Biden told an audience outside Phoenix that he recently asked Business Roundtable executives about his approach of using federal monies to jump-start industries such as U.S. semiconductor manufacturing. “When the United States decides to invest considerable resources in an industry … does that encourage business or discourage it?” he said he asked the business honchos. “The answer was: It encourages it, overwhelmingly. … It’s about investing in the American people.”

But, make no mistake, this was a campaign trip. And from his first event in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday he went right after the former president.

“Trump lost millions of jobs — millions when he was president. It’s amazing how the nostalgia for a lost four years was,” Biden said. (Job creation has been much stronger under Biden, according to the congressional Joint Economic Committee — but Trump surrogates often note the massive job losses spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic skewed job data in an unprecedented manner.)

Trump posted a video Wednesday on his social media site mocking Biden’s low poll numbers over his handling of the economy, and the GOP standard bearer routinely predicts an economic collapse during a potential second Biden term.

Biden also zeroed in on Trump’s health care plans, including trying again to terminate the 2010 health care law enacted by President Barack Obama, saying such proposals would drive up the cost of prescription drugs and care in general. And in a new campaign trail line, Biden took a direct shot at the presumptive GOP nominee’s claims that all of his policy ideas stem from an “America First” philosophy.

“The bottom line, I want to build a future in America,” he said in Phoenix. “My predecessor is going to let the future be built in China and other countries, not America, because it may be cheaper for those investing.”

During an official White House event later Tuesday in Las Vegas on lowering housing costs, Biden mocked “my predecessor” for failing to deliver on his many promises to pass an infrastructure bill, which Biden and lawmakers from both parties did in 2021.

“My predecessor promised, remember my predecessor kept talking about ‘infrastructure week’ for four years? Well, he didn’t build a damn thing,” Biden said to laughter. “You all think I’m kidding — I’m not.”

Republicans criticized the president’s trip, even as Trump has been holding rallies in swing states and others he has to hold onto if he hopes to be the first former president since Grover Cleveland to be elected to nonconsecutive terms.

“Biden heads west today, where he’ll stumble through incoherent remarks on ‘lowering costs’ in housing,” Rachel Lee, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said in a Tuesday statement. “Will Biden answer for the crises he’s created for Nevada and Arizona families? … It’s no wonder why Trump is beating Biden in Nevada and Arizona, not unlike every other battleground state.”

But the president made the opposite pitch in Arizona.

“Let’s be clear: It’s a fundamental break from the trickle-down economics super-charged by my predecessor,” Biden said of the CHIPS and Science Act, which is intended to break the dependence on microprocessor suppliers primarily based in Taiwan and South Korea for American missiles, spy satellites, telecom gear and medical devices. “On his watch, companies sent American jobs overseas for cheaper labor and imported products. We’re creating jobs in America and exporting American products.”

Increasingly, Biden is trying to set the general election campaign as one about two opposite visions for the next four years — and beyond.

“He wants to undo every single thing we’ve done, if he gets elected. He’s stated it straight up,” Biden said in Las Vegas on Tuesday, referring to Trump. “We have a lot more to do. That’s why this election is so important — it’s about the future.”

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