Analysis: Biden seizes on Trump’s Supreme Court triumph to seek redemption after debate debacle | CNN Politics (2024)


“I dissent!”

President Joe Biden was offering a dramatic, direct response to an epochal Supreme Court ruling that could hand presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump a pass to unchecked power if he wins a second term.

But Biden’s defiance also conveyed a poignant image of a president refusing to be pushed off the greatest political stage after a disastrous debate performance revealed the ravages of age.

Members of the media and public watch as the US Supreme Court reads opinions on July 1 in Washington, DC. Bill Hennessy Related article Takeaways from the Supreme Court’s historic decision granting Donald Trump immunity

Biden appeared Monday night in the majestic surroundings of the cross hall just inside the front-door of the White House, with the presidential seal behind him and marble pillars on either side. But his argument — that presidents aren’t kings — was the opposite of regal. Biden said that the high court’s ruling on Trump’s sweeping claim to be shielded from prosecution over his bid to steal the 2020 election — finding that presidents are immune related to official acts — was dangerous and unprecedented.

“Now the American people will have to do what the court should have been willing to do and would not: Americans will have to render a judgment about Donald Trump’s behavior,” Biden said.

His address was both a major moment in the institutional history of the presidency and a calculated political gambit — the first step back from a ghastly and humiliating weekend filled by calls for him to abandon his presidential campaign.

In four minutes, Biden, 81, encapsulated the two increasingly grave and urgent choices facing voters in November.

Will the country turn again to a 78-year-old former president with authoritarian instincts who believes that the Constitution gives him absolute power?

And does Biden, slowed by time’s inexorable march and facing an existential personal political crisis have the strength to be the last barrier to Trump’s autocratic ambitions?

Biden’s first attempt to rebound

The president’s appearance on Monday evening came after he returned from Camp David, where he’d been staying since Saturday, surrounded by family members and assailed by speculation about his political future. Biden is braced for polls that will show whether his already tough path to reelection was further compromised by his hard-to-watch struggles on the debate stage.

As a piece of political theater, the speech did nothing to quell the concerns about Biden’s health, mental capacity and age raised by a painful showing in the CNN debate in Atlanta on Thursday when he sometimes looked vacant and was occasionally incoherent. Whether it was because of the ambient setting or a different type of television make-up, he looked bronzed and rested on Monday instead of wan and aged as he did in the debate. But even though he read from a teleprompter, the president’s words were hurried together as those of older people sometimes are.

News outlets stage in front of the U. S. Supreme Court as it issues the last remaining opinions of the term, including a decision on Donald Trump's immunity from prosecution for the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, Washington, DC, July 1, 2024. The Trump opinion held that Presidents have immunity for "official acts," but did not determine if Trump's role in the insurrection was an official act. (Photo by Allison Bailey / Middle East Images / Middle East Images via AFP) (Photo by ALLISON BAILEY/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images) Allison Bailey/AFP/Getty Images Related ANALYSIS The Supreme Court just gave presidents a superpower. Here’s its explanation

And when he finished, the president ignored questions from a press pool. His delicate walk — almost a totter — back into the Blue Room underscored the loss of mobility that only reminds voters of his advancing years. Biden will require a higher volume and pace of public events and a level of energy and engagement for week after week to try to dispel the haunting images of a president, open mouthed and seemingly confused at last week’s debate.

Yet the forceful quality of Biden’s delivery and the content of his words in the speech left no doubt of his convictions — even in far more manageable circ*mstances than a debate against the feral Trump. Monday’s appearance was a classic example of how to deploy the imagery and rhetoric of the presidency.

The court found that for “core” presidential activity, Trump has the absolute immunity he had sought in a filing arising from his federal 2020 election interference case. The conservative majority said that Trump’s conversations with the Justice Department, efforts to try to get officials on board with his effort to overturn the election, were covered with absolute immunity – a factor critics say could offer him an opening to use the department to seek reprisals against his personal enemies if he wins another term.

For other official actions and more routine powers held by the president, the court said there is at least some immunity and largely deferred to lower courts to decide the scope.

But Biden made a case for the presidency within the constraints of a constitutional system meant to contain executive power, not to unleash it. The irony of a president warning that the power of his own office must be circ*mscribed was consistent with the positions of all but a few US presidents who understood that the integrity of the public trust they held and American democracy depended on their restraint.

Biden invoked George Washington, the first president, who established the tradition of willingly and peacefully ceding power that Trump abused four years ago, to argue that executive power is “limited not absolute.” Presidential speeches don’t need to be long to resonate. After all, the Gettysburg Address is only about 270 words long, depending on which transcription is used. And Biden’s short first on-camera official appearance since the debate had its own punch and power.

“The American people must decide whether Donald Trump’s assault on our democracy on January 6 makes him unfit for public office in the highest office of land,” Biden said. “The American people must decide (whether) Trump’s embrace of violence to preserve his power is acceptable. Perhaps most importantly, the American people must decide if they want to entrust the … presidency … once again … to … Donald Trump, now knowing he’ll be more emboldened to do whatever he pleases whenever he wants to do it.”

Trump rages about the ‘stench’ from Biden ‘hoaxes’

Biden’s measured reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling contrasted with the triumphant outburst of his predecessor that laid bare voters’ choice in November.


Anti-Trump demonstrators protest outside the US Supreme Court as the court considers whether former US President Donald Trump is eligible to run for president in the 2024 election in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024. The nation's highest court is hearing arguments in the most consequential election law case since it halted the Florida vote recount in 2000 with Republican George W. Bush narrowly leading Democrat Al Gore. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images) Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images Related article How Donald Trump is poised to avoid pre-election trials in three out of four of his criminal cases

Trump’s all-caps, self-obsession and false claims that he’s a victim of politicized justice only reinforced Biden’s arguments about the dangers he might present to democracy. But Trump’s skill as a demagogue has convinced many of his supporters that Biden, and not the former president who refused to accept the result of an election, is the true threat to democracy.

Trump has never hidden what he would do with enhanced executive power. After all, he has called for the termination of the Constitution in a social media post. During the pandemic in 2020, Trump declared falsely: “When somebody’s the President of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.” In his social media campaign apparently meant to sway the conservative majority on the Supreme Court before the judgment, the ex-president repeatedly said that without immunity for all acts, the presidency could not operate. And he’s left no doubt that he’d use a second term to pursue personal retribution.

Those statements take on new significance given Monday’s ruling.

“This was not the grand slam that Trump was looking for, but it was very close,” former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, a CNN senior law enforcement analyst, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on said “The Source” Monday.

“The definition of immunity is so broad … that with the addition of the elimination of using any official conduct as evidence in a prosecution that targets unofficial conduct, really carves out a minuscule area of prosecution for any president or former president.”

That reality appears likely to give Trump even greater latitude for his expansive interpretation of presidential powers if he wins in November — a factor that Biden is beseeching voters to consider. He directed Americans to the views of liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who issued a searing dissent against the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision.

“I concur with Justice Sotomayor’s dissent today. Here’s what she said … ‘In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law. With fear for our democracy, I dissent,’ end of quote. So should the American people dissent.”

“I dissent,” Biden said.

Analysis: Biden seizes on Trump’s Supreme Court triumph to seek redemption after debate debacle | CNN Politics (2024)
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