Joe Biden gives pitch on uniting the country in Philadelphia

Joe Biden finishes his campaign rollout with his first rally in Philadelphia.

May 18, 2019, 6:04 PM

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his pitch to unite the country in Philadelphia on Saturday, for the third and final phase of his presidential campaign roll out.

Biden held his first campaign rally in Eakin’s Oval near the famous "Rocky steps" of the Philadelphia Art Museum on Saturday afternoon.

The rally, which was announced the same day Biden officially entered the race in April, was intended to focus on his vision "for unifying America with respected leadership on the world stage -- and dignified leadership at home," according to a press release from the campaign.

The event was seen as an unofficial bookend to the campaign launch.

Biden made the case for uniting America, rather than enduring another four years of what he described as the divisive leadership of the current president, referring to him early in the speech as the "divider-in-chief."

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. Vice President  Joe Biden speaks during a campaign kickoff rally, May 18, 2019 in Philadelphia.
Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign kickoff rally, May 18, 2019 in Philadelphia.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

"I believe America is always better just best when America is acted as one America," Biden said. "One America. One America maybe a simple notion, but it doesn't it doesn't make it any less profound. This nation needs to come together. It has to come together, folks. We started this campaign, and when we did, I said I was running for three reasons. The first is to restore the soul of the nation, the essence of who we are. The second is rebuild the backbone of this nation, and the third to unite this nation. One America."

Biden defended this bipartisan approach to politics, pointing to his record of reaching consensus on big issues like the economic recovery.

"Now some of these same people are saying, you know, Biden just doesn't get it," he continued. "You can't work with Republicans anymore. That's not the way it works anymore. Well folks, I'm gonna say something outrageous. I know how to make government work. Not, not because I've talked or tweeted about it, but because I've done it. I've worked across the aisle to reach consensus."

"I did it when I was a senator. It's what I did is your vice president work with Barack Obama. It’s what I will do as your president," Biden said to cheers.

'One America maybe a simple notion, but it doesn't it doesn't make it any less profound.

But Biden said he wouldn’t be afraid to go toe-to toe-with Republicans if that’s what it takes, as was the case with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"I know there are times there's only a bare knuckle fight will do," he said. "I know we have to take on Republicans to do what's right, without any help from them. That's what it took to pass the Affordable Care Act. That was a tough fight. And it was a big, a big deal."

Throughout the speech, Biden directly took on Trump, most notably on Trump on taking credit for the strong economy.

"I know President Trump likes to take credit for the economy and economic growth, and the low unemployment numbers, but just look at the facts, not the alternative facts. President Trump inherited an economy from Obama Biden administration, that was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life. Just like, just like everything else he's been given in his life, he's in the process of squandering that is well."

"The single most important thing we have to accomplish is defeat Donald Trump."

Biden spoke to a number of policy proposals he will take on in the campaign, reiterating his support for free community college, strengthening the ACA and providing a public option like Medicare, and building ‘a new green infrastructure.’

The former vice president also spoke out about his view on climate change, after coming under fire from progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for reportedly considering a "middle ground" climate change policy

'If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is: beat Trump

"Let's stop fighting and start fixing. And we can only do it together. We're gonna deal with the existential crisis posed by climate change. There's not much time left. We need a clean energy revolution. We need it now. We have to start now."

But Biden said above all, defeating Trump was the first step on his climate policy:

"If you want to know what the first and most important plank in my climate proposal is: beat Trump."

Following chants of "defeat Trump," Biden asked the crowd "are we a nation that rips kids away from their parents?" The crowd responded, "We don't. ...Trump does!"

Working the rope line after his speech, Biden told ABC News he would work to restore direct aid to three Latin American countries known collectively as the "Northern Triangle" -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- that Trump cut in March.

"Is there a crisis at the border?" the former vice president was asked.

"No, I think the crisis at the border is the way they're treating people who are seeking asylum," he told ABC News. "There should be a process for them I tried to set it up and the idea that this guy is cutting $740 million that I provided for those three Latin American countries to better their circumstances ... is wrong. "

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden stands with his wife Jill at the end of a campaign rally in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP

During his remarks, Biden also made a pledge to not speak ill of another Democrat during his campaign.

"Our politics has become so mean, so petty, so negative," Biden said. "It is ripping this country apart at the seams."

The rally was much larger than Biden’s previous events in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. A campaign official told ABC News that a crowd of 2,000 was expected at the event.

The campaign has placed a heavy focus on Philadelphia as the "birthplace of American democracy," and the rally location was chosen for that reason. But even in celebrating Philadelphia, the veteran U.S. Senator could not eschew his beloved state of Delaware.

"Everyone knows Jill's a Philadelphia girl," Biden told the crowd. "She loves this city. I do too. But to paraphrase the poet James Joyce, I have to say this folks because I’m near my state, when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart."

Biden promised the crowd that he would outwork the other 22 candidates vying for the Democratic Nomination

"This campaign is just getting started, I promise you this," Biden vowed. "No one -- no one's gonna work longer, no one's gonna campaign harder to win your hearts your trust and your support, then the son of Katherine Eugene Finnegan from Scranton, Pennsylvania: Joseph R Biden Jr. of Delaware."

The campaign announced Thursday Philadelphia would also be home to their headquarters.

"Philadelphia is a thriving city and a testament to the American spirit, built by the ingenuity and tenacity of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Its storied history and celebrated diversity will serve as an inspiration for Team Biden, and is the ideal setting to continue our fight for the soul of this nation," Biden’s campaign manager Greg Shultz said in a press release announcing the headquarters.

Both Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, were born in the key swing state that will be vital for any Democrat taking on Trump to win in 2020, and a Quinnipiac poll out this week indicates Biden has strong appeal among Democrats in the Keystone State. Biden took the top spot in the poll, with 39% of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania naming the former vice president as their preferred candidate.

The poll also found Biden beat Trump in a head-to-head in a match-up in the state, 53% to 42%.

Since announcing his presidential run on April 25, Biden has focused his message on why he decided to run -- his view that the country is in a battle for the soul of America, and restoring the middle class as the backbone of the economy.

A campaign official told ABC News that following the rally Saturday, the campaign will shift to a new phase -- focusing on Biden’s policy proposals, and what he will do as president.

The rollouts will give "specifics of the policies that Vice President Biden has believed in and has fought for his entire career and will make the centerpiece of a Biden White House," according to the official.

The former vice president plans to travel to Tennessee, Florida and Texas in the coming weeks -- three states Trump won in 2016. Biden’s full schedule for those trips has yet to be announced.

Since getting into the race, Biden has taken the top spot all polls of the Democratic field, according to FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker.

Biden has maintained he will "not speak ill of a fellow Democrat," but his frontrunner status has put a target on his back from his fellow Democrats. Biden has faced criticism from his opponents on issues from criminal justice reform, to climate change -- a sign of what could come in the Democratic debates next month.