In honoring John McCain, Joe Biden warns about MAGA extremism's threat to democracy

'There's something dangerous happening in America now,' the president said

U.S. President Joe Biden awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cindy McCain in honor of her husband, John McCain, a former congressman and Purple Heart recipient, along with sixteen other recipients in the East Room of the White House in Washington in 2022. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
U.S. President Joe Biden awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Cindy McCain in honor of her husband, John McCain, a former congressman and Purple Heart recipient, along with sixteen other recipients in the East Room of the White House in Washington in 2022. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 28 (UPI) -- In a speech honoring his late friend Sen. John McCain, President Joe Biden on Thursday warned that MAGA extremism will erode American democracy.

It marked among the most fiery speeches he has delivered as president as he appealed for bipartisanship and civil political discourse.


Biden, a Democrat, delivered the speech to announce the creation of a library in McCain's honor at Arizona State University. McCain, a Republican, died of brain cancer five years ago, but the two were close friends who engaged in heated debates on the U.S. Senate floor throughout their careers.

"There's something dangerous happening in America now. There's an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy: the MAGA movement. Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans, adheres to the MAGA extremist ideology. I know this because I've been able to work with Republicans my whole career," Biden said, a nod to his relationship with McCain.


"My friends, they're not hiding their attacks. They're openly promoting them, attacking the free press as the enemy of the people, attacking the rule of law as an impediment, formatting voter suppression and elections subversion."

He even blasted Republicans for "banning books and burying history."

Former Vice President Joe Biden delivers a tribute during a memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. on Thursday, August 30, 2018, in Phoenix. Pool Photo by Matt York/UPI

Biden said that Republican extremists "are more focused on shutting down the government" and "burning the place down" than conducting normal business.

His comments come as the U.S. is facing a looming government shutdown that could damage national defense and affect government agencies across the board.

"Our U.S. military, and this is not a hyperbole, is the strongest military in the history of the world," Biden said as he launched into an attack on Sen. Tommy Tuberville's one-man blockade on military promotions.

"It's the most diverse, the most powerful in the history of the world. And it's being accused of being weak and woke by the opposition. One guy in Alabama is holding up the promotion of hundreds of these officers? Frankly, these extremists have no idea what the hell they're talking about."

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-AL, has been blocking hundreds of military promotions. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Tuberville, a junior senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who took office after a career spent as a college football coach, for months has been able to block promotions and confirmation hearings for the military after the Pentagon announced new policies granting administrative leave and travel expenses for service members seeking abortions.

The president said the United States is being asked, "What will we do to maintain our democracy?"

"Will we, as John wrote, never quit? Will we not hide from history but make history? Will we put partisanship aside and put country first? I say we must and we will," Biden said. "But, it's not easy."

At that moment of the speech, Biden shut down a heckler -- promising to meet with them after his speech.

"Democracy is not easy, as was just demonstrated," Biden quipped. "But giving it all for democracy makes all things possible."

The president outlined what he believes are the core principles of democracy, all of which he said are being challenged by far-right Republicans.

Pro-Trump supporters breach the security perimeter of the U.S. Capitol to protest against the Electoral College vote count that would certify President-elect Joe Biden as the winner in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Under federal law, Jan. 6 is the date Electoral College votes determining the next president are counted in a joint session of Congress. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

"Democracy means rule of the people, not rule of the monarchs, not rule of the money, not rule of the mighty. Regardless of party, that means respecting free and fair elections -- accepting the outcome, win or lose. It means you can't love your country only when you win," Biden said.

"Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence regardless of party. Such violence is never, never, never acceptable in America. It's undemocratic and it must never be normalized to advance political power.

"And democracy means respecting the institutions that govern a free society."

Biden said that the political institutions of the United States are under threat with all three branches of government suffering in the eyes of the world. He said he has met with about a hundred heads of state who each ask him if America's democracy "will be OK."

G7 leaders (left to right), Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak , pose for a group photo before the second day of the G7 summit meeting on Saturday May 20, 2023 in Hiroshima, Japan. Japan hosts The G7 summit in Hiroshima from 19-22 May. Photo by Japan's PM Press Office/ UPI

He recounted telling a NATO meeting that "America is back," to which French President Emmanuel Macron responded, "For how long?"

Biden talked about an exchange he had with the chancellor of Germany.

"Mr. President, what would you think if you picked up the paper tomorrow, the London Times, and it said a thousand people broke down the doors of Parliament and killed two bobbies to overthrow an election of a new prime minister?" Biden recounted the chancellor saying.

Biden said he wanted to honor the McCain Library because it is a home to a "proud Republican who put his country first."

The president contrasted McCain with former President Donald Trump, who said the U.S. Constitution gave him the right to do whatever he wanted as president.

"What do they intend to do once they erode the constitutional order of checks and balances and separation of powers, limit the independence of federal agencies, put them under the thumb of the president?" Biden said.

"Give the president the authority, the power to refuse to spend money that Congress has appropriated if he doesn't like what it's being spent for? Get rid of longstanding protections for civil service?"


As he was leaving office, Trump created a job classification known as Schedule F that made workers at-will employees. It was immediately repealed by a Biden executive order.

Biden accused Republicans of "purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way and inciting violence against those who risk their lives to make America safe and weaponizing against the soul of who we are at Americans."

"None of this is surprising," he added.

Former President Donald Trump said that the punishment for being a traitor used to be death in a post critical of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Biden said that on Friday he will be overseeing the changeover of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Gen. Mark Milley, who he called "a genuine hero and patriot," to another, CQ Brown. Yet, Republicans have called Milley a "traitor."

"... In times gone by, the punishment would have been death," Trump said in a post to Truth Social, calling Milley a traitor.

Biden indicated he was troubled by the response to such comments from the right.


"This is the United States of America. This is the United States of America. And although I don't believe a majority of Republicans believe that, the silence is deafening. The silence is deafening," Biden said.

"MAGA extremists claim support of our troops, but they're harming military leadership and troop morale, freezing pay, freezing military families in limbo."

The event, streamed online by the White House, began with remarks from Cindy McCain, who revealed that Biden and his wife, Jill, had introduced her to her late husband.

When he took the podium, Biden talked about his days working with McCain.

"John and I used to travel when he got back from all that time in Vietnam in prison, he decided he wanted to go back to stay in the military and he was assigned to the United States Senate -- to the military office there that travels with senators when they travel abroad," Biden said, taking the podium.

"John and I put in a couple hundred thousand miles together."

Biden said he was on his way to China and stopped in Hawaii, where top U.S. Navy brass held an event for him.

"John kept looking at your mom and he said, 'Gosh, she's beautiful,'" Biden said, directing his comments to McCain's children. "And I said, 'Yeah, she is John.' And I said, 'Go up and say hi to her.' He said, 'Nah, I'm not going to do that.'"


The president jokingly said that he "takes credit" for their relationship.

"I've been thinking about our friendship of 40 years. The hammer and tong debates we had in the Senate. We'd argue like we were two brothers. We'd argue like hell, I mean really go at one another -- and then we'd go to lunch together," Biden said.

"By the way, when he found this magnificent woman and got married, I'm the guy that convinced him to run in Arizona as a Republican. Bless me Father."

Biden said he still remained friends with McCain even when they were running against each other on opposite tickets when the Republican ran against former President Barack Obama. In a tearful moment, he noted that McCain and his son, Beau Biden, died of the same brain cancer.

"Two weeks ago, I thought about John when I was standing in another part of the world: Vietnam. Excuse me if I -- it was an emotional trip," Biden said. "Once at war, we are now choosing the highest possible partnership through John's leadership."

Biden recounted McCain's torture as a prisoner of war in solitary confinement in a Vietnamese prison during the war, unable to raise his arms above his shoulders again.


"As I stood there paying my respects, I thought about how much I miss my friend," Biden said. "I thought about something else, as well. I thought about how much America misses John right now. How much America needed John's courage and foresight and vision.

"I thought about what John stood for, what he fought for, what he was willing to die for," Biden said.

"I thought about what we owe John, what I owed him, and what we owed each other."

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