Former Vice President Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump's handling of civil unrest sparked by police violence in a speech Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh, his first in-person campaign trip on the road since the Democratic National Convention two weeks ago.
Using some of his sharpest language yet, the Democratic nominee claimed that Trump has only escalated violence playing out in the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, both of which have seen violent clashes result in deadly shootings in the past week.
"This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence -- because for years he has fomented it," Biden said. "He may believe mouthing the words 'law and order' makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is."
But notably, Biden -- whom the Trump White House has accused of not speaking out forcefully enough about violence -- began by saying, "I want to make it absolutely clear. I'll be clear about all of this. Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It's lawlessness. Plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted."
"Violence will not bring change. It will only bring destruction. It's wrong in every way. It divides instead of unites, destroys businesses, only hurts the working families that serve the community. It makes things worse across the board, not better. No, it is not what Dr. King or John Lewis taught. And it must end," he continued. "Fires are burning -- and we have a president who fans the flames."
Biden's speech was intended to counter Vice President Mike Pence's claim during the Republican National Convention last week that "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."
"Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected? We need justice in America. And we need safety in America," Biden said, speaking before about 15-20 people, mostly reporters, camera crews and Secret Service agents as a small crowd of supporters waited outside.
Biden hit Trump and Pence for slamming "Joe Biden's America" by hammering on the irony that it's their administration currently in charge. He said the violence they're condemning is getting worse as Trump "adds fuel to every fire."
"He's supposed to be protecting this country but instead he's rooting for chaos and violence. The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he's trying to scare America," Biden said.
"The violence we are seeing in Donald Trump's America. These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden in the future but Donald Trump's America today. He keeps telling you if only he was president, it wouldn't happen, if he was president he keeps telling, if he was president you would feel safe. He is president whether he knows it or not and it is happening," Biden said.
Biden attempted to tie simultaneous crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fallout from the pandemic and police-related violence -- to Trump's tenure.
"The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better," Biden said. "An incumbent president who sows chaos rather than providing order."
Pivoting the message back to what he calls Trump's massive mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and subsequent crippling economy, Biden said Americans are living in fear directly because of the president's inaction.
"Mr. Trump, you want to talk about fear? If you know what people are afraid of in America? Afraid they're going to get COVID. Afraid they're going to get sick and die and that's, in no small part, because of you," he said.
Biden didn't hold back in making his case that Trump would do anything to hold onto power and that his "toxic presence" for the last four years has been a "poison" to the country.
"We've arrived at a moment in this campaign we all know, including the president in front of me, knew we'd get to: the moment when Donald Trump would be so desperate, he'd do anything to hold on to power," Biden said.
"Donald Trump has been a toxic presence in our nation for four years. Poisoning how we talk to one another. Poisoning how we treat one another. Poisoning the values this nation has always held dear. Poisoning our very democracy," he said.
But Biden also hammered a message of hope for the future, if he is the one elected.
"Trump has sought to remake this nation in his image: Selfish, angry, dark and divisive. This is not who we are. At our best, America's always been -- and if I have anything to do with it -- it will be again, generous, confident, an optimistic nation, full of hope and resolve," he said.
Biden also took on another Trump accusation important to the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
"I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about it," Biden said.
As Trump prepared to visit Kenosha on Tuesday, Biden, who currently doesn't have plans to travel to Wisconsin, was taking heat from the Trump White House.
In an evening news conference, the president hit back at Biden's speech and claimed it is Democrats' rhetoric inciting the violence.
"The wave of violence and destruction that we have seen in recent weeks and months has occurred in cities exclusively controlled and dominated by the Biden -- Joe Biden party," Trump began his remarks. "The violence is fueled by dangerous rhetoric from far-left politicians that demonize our nation and demonize our police."
Calling Biden's speech "strange," Trump also said Biden failed to acknowledge "left-wing violence" and "antifa" in his remarks -- though both are active threats, according to Trump.
"He mentioned law enforcement, the police, but he didn't mention antifa. I wonder why. And if he cannot name the problem, there is no way he will solve the problem," Trump said. "In fact, Biden would give antifa what they want -- far left policy that they are asking for and if that happens, we don't have much of a country left."
Notably, Biden condemned violence and rioters in his remarks and said he believes he's the candidate to bring both police and protesters fighting for racial justice together to the table.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also praised Trump ahead of his visit in Kenosha for "showing up," unlike Biden, she said.
"This president shows up. He showed up this weekend in Texas. He showed up in Louisiana. He's showing up in Kenosha tomorrow," McEnany said on "Fox and Friends" Monday morning. "This president is out and about, reopening the country, demonstrating his respect for the American people by actually going to places where Americans are hurting."
"Democrats ignoring the state of Wisconsin as they did in 2016," she added.
In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan did so in 1984.
Biden appeared to acknowledge the earlier attacks as he first began to speak.
"In the recent days, we have had a lot of talk about who's going where and how I have decided to come to Pittsburgh to talk a little bit about what's going on right now. In the early days of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt told the country, and I quote, 'the news is going to get worse and worse before it gets better and the American people deserve to have it straight from the shoulder...'"
Biden on Monday mentioned the president multiple times by name, unlike in his convention speech, in which he didn't once say "Trump."