White House defends divisive ‘semi-fascist’ rhetoric despite Biden running on unity message

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White House press secretary Jean-Pierre was repeatedly asked Thursday to answer for President Biden likening former President Donald Trump’s “extreme MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.” 

Asked Thursday whether the Biden administration was concerned it may be stoking the divisiveness that the president was ostensibly trying to heal, Jean-Pierre said Biden “is never going to shy away from calling out what he sees.” 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Jean-Pierre tried to clarify that Biden’s criticism was directed at “those extreme MAGA Republicans, those who hold office.” 

“We understand we hit a nerve. We get that,” Jean-Pierre said. “We understand that they’re trying to hide, and we understand that ultra MAGA office holders want to play games here and dodge accountability for their extreme proposals and actions.” 


The briefing came ahead of a scheduled speech by President Biden at Independence Hall later Thursday where he is expected to sound an alarm about what he regards as “extremist” threats to American democracy, making a sharp turn from his inaugural address when he preached national unity. 

Republicans see the ramped-up rhetoric as further evidence that the White House is not representing most Americans. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told FOX Thursday: “The problem with Joe Biden is he does not understand the soul of America.”

A reporter asked Jean-Pierre what Biden’s message would be to Americans who still considered themselves Republicans or supported former President Trump. 

Jean-Pierre said that what was meant by “extremism” was directed at a “very small piece … of the American public” and a “very small component of MAGA Republicans in Congress.” 

President Biden speaks at the Arnaud C. Marts Center on the campus of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022.

President Biden speaks at the Arnaud C. Marts Center on the campus of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith later asked Jean-Pierre what percentage of the 74 million people who voted for Trump in the 2020 election the White House regarded as extremists. 

“I’m talking about specifically, MAGA office holders. That’s what we’re talking about,” Jean-Pierre said again. “We’re talking about MAGA office holders who have put forth an agenda that is extreme.” 

By “extreme,” Jean-Pierre clarified that she meant cutting taxes for billionaires and corporations and calling for a national abortion ban. 

“That’s an extreme agenda that is not in line with where a majority of Americans are,” Jean-Pierre said. “[I]f you look at the items that I just listed, a majority of Americans don’t support what the MAGA Republicans in Congress are doing.” 

Jean-Pierre also said, “When you are not with what majority of Americans are, then you know, that is extreme. That is an extreme way of thinking.”

According to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, Biden’s approval rating is hovering at around 40%, up from his dismal 33% approval rating in July.  


Biden’s trip to Philadelphia is just one of his three to Pennsylvania within a week, a sign of the state’s importance in the midterms, with competitive Senate and governor’s races. Trump plans a rally this weekend in Scranton, Biden’s birthplace.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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