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Biden kicks off outreach to Black voters as protest threat looms at Morehouse

College president threatens to ‘cease the ceremonies on the spot’

President Joe Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on Friday.
President Joe Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on Friday. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden has kicked off a series of actions and public appearances aimed at selling his record to Black voters, a key bloc that typically votes Democratic but could tip the election by staying home in November in big numbers.

“We have a whole group of people out there trying to rewrite history, trying to erase history,” Biden said during a speech Friday at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is a few blocks from the White House. “We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and should be treated equally. … We never fully lived up to that idea, to state the obvious.”

He warned of what he called a “resistance” to that ideal “led by my predecessor and his MAGA Republican allies, backed by an extreme Supreme Court [that] gutted affirmative action in college admissions.”

He also said presumed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump “and his extreme MAGA friends” were “now going after diversity, equity and inclusion all across America.”

“They want a country for some, not for all,” Biden said.

The president touted his administration’s efforts to invest more in schools in Black and minority areas, as well as his moves to forgive more than $160 billion in student loan debt. A day before the speech, his administration announced it would dole out $16 billion to historically Black colleges and universities, and Biden told an Atlanta radio station he believes that Trump, as president, “hurt” Black Americans. Trump has courted Black voters, saying Biden has done little to help them.

Biden’s outreach push includes delivering the commencement address Sunday at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, which bills itself as “the nation’s only historically black private liberal arts college for men.” That appearance could be a tense scene with multiple interruptions. Some students remain frustrated with Biden’s self-described “ironclad” support of Israel and the Palestinian death toll in Gaza as a result of the Jewish state’s retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Morehouse President David A. Thomas acknowledged Thursday that college officials know disruptions are possible after a number of Pro-Palestinian campus protests turned violent. “What we won’t allow is disruptive behavior that prevents the ceremony or services from proceeding in a manner that those in attendance can partake and enjoy,” Thomas told CNN in an interview Thursday.

“So, for example, prolonged shouting down of the president as he speaks. I have also made a decision that we will also not ask police to take individuals out of commencement in zip ties,” Thomas said. “If faced with the choice, I will cease the ceremonies on the spot if we were to reach that position.”

Steve Benjamin, director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, declined to comment when asked about the potential for protesters heckling Biden. Instead, the Biden team would “let Morehouse do Morehouse,” he told reporters Thursday, adding of the speech: “No community is monolithic. … People have different thoughts about what they might want to hear.”

Benjamin continued, “The goal will be to make sure that we use this as an opportunity to continue to elevate the amazing work that’s been done at Morehouse over the last century and a half.”

The Morehouse appearance shows Biden’s campaign team was willing to risk a loud and messy scene as he tries to recreate the winning coalition he had in 2020 amid signs that the big bump Democrats normally get from Black voters has abated.

“On average, Donald Trump received 18 percent of the vote from Black voters who expressed a preference for either Trump or Biden in … six national polls,” Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor, wrote in late March for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “If that result were to hold up in November, it would represent by far the highest level of Black support for a Republican presidential candidate in the past 60 years.”

However, he added, “exit polling from the 2022 midterms and turnout patterns from the 2024 primary season also call into question polling that shows Republicans on the verge of a big breakthrough with Black voters.”

Black voters sided with Biden over Trump in 2020 by a ratio of 87 percent to 12 percent, according to the exit poll data compiled by the Roper Center. That was a drop compared with 2016, when Black voters supported Hillary Clinton over Trump by 89 percent to 8 percent. And since Biden took office, pollsters have described further deterioration of enthusiasm.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted in April found 42 percent of Black adults would vote for Biden and 4 percent would pick Trump. The same survey found a 20 percentage-point drop in Black enthusiasm, falling to 41 percent saying they would “certainly” vote in November; 61 percent said the same in June 2020.

Asked by reporters on Friday how Democrats are trying to mobilize Black voters, Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said they were trying to “understand where people are getting their information” — and it is not just broadcast TV.

“A lot of folks are on social media, and there are local leaders who have a big impact,” she told a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast in Washington. “So we have been working … to make sure that we’re communicating directly with them there.”

Biden’s campaign is also turning to surrogates to deliver the message, including Rep. James E. Clyburn, whose endorsement in his home state of South Carolina helped Biden secure the party’s nomination four years ago after disappointing results in early primaries. Clyburn is slated to head out on a nationwide campaigning tour, Punchbowl News first reported.

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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