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Biden to make the case for democracy at spot of American heroism

President Joe Biden is set to present a case for democracy Friday against the backdrop of a key turning point for allied forces in World War II – setting up a dramatic moment with war once more on Europe’s doorstep and teeing up a domestic contrast with his political rival.

Biden will travel to Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France, on Friday – a site separating the Omaha and Utah beaches where American Army Rangers scaled steep cliffs to secure positions against the Germans – for a speech on the power of democracy invoking the symbolism of the location.

In a week filled with poignant images featuring America’s Greatest Generation, the speech will stand out as a call to modern-day action against an isolationist streak seeping into American politics and a rise of authoritarianism around the world.

Not lost on White House aides planning the speech is the one delivered in the same spot 40 years ago by Ronald Reagan, a Republican who issued warnings against isolationism in the face of tyranny.

Eighty years after the allied landings, the president will draw a “throughline” from World War II to today in his remarks, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. But the subtext of the speech is also likely to be aimed at former President Donald Trump.

“He’ll talk about the stakes of that moment – an existential fight between dictatorship and freedom. He’ll talk about the men who scaled those cliffs and how they … put the country ahead of themselves. And he’ll talk about the dangers of isolationism and how if we back dictators, fail to stand up to them, they keep going, and ultimately, America and the world pays a greater price,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Biden has repeatedly cast Trump’s embrace of authoritarian leaders – including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un – as a threat to democracy.

The president, Sullivan continued, will “really be drawing a throughline from World War II through the Cold War and the stand up of the greatest military alliance the world has ever known, the NATO alliance, to today, where we face once again war in Europe, where NATO has rallied to defend freedom and sovereignty in Europe.”

Biden, a senior administration official told CNN, will “focus on the veterans of World War II and what we owe them and how we have to live up to their example – and the power of democracy.”

It comes as Biden is facing duel international crises: In Ukraine, where the US is hoping to turn the tide of Russia’s offensive, and in the Middle East, where the Biden administration is calling on Hamas to accept an agreement on a ceasefire and hostage proposal.

A monthslong delay in providing additional American assistance to Ukraine, prompted in part by resistance from Republicans aligned with Trump, led to setbacks on the battlefield and momentum for Russia.

The strain of isolationism has led to concerns in Europe and elsewhere about what a return by Trump to the White House might portend.

By speaking at Pointe du Hoc, Biden is harkening back to one of the most famous presidential speeches ever delivered, the 40th anniversary D-Day address by Reagan.

Reagan delivered a forceful rebuke of authoritarianism framed through the lens of the bravery of “the boys of Pointe du Hoc.” The senior administration official said: “There’s no way there’s not going to be comparisons.”

That speech, like Biden’s, occurred at a moment of contention with Russia.

Flanked by the men who fought there, Reagan, another aging president running for reelection, made a forceful call for the power of democracy. 

“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you,” Reagan said.

Like Biden, he also warned about American withdrawal from the world.

“We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments,” Reagan said then.

Biden has taken centerpiece speeches on democracy on a traveling road show.

It was a key theme of his 2022 State of the Union address as he defined the battle between democracy and autocracy as the key question of this moment in history.

He said that the defense, protection, and preservation of American democracy was “the central cause of my presidency” as he honored the late GOP Sen. John McCain in Tempe, Arizona, in September 2023.

He highlighted unified support for democracy ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Warsaw, Poland, in February 2023.

And on the eve of the third anniversary of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, earlier this year, Biden cast the value Americans place on democracy as the “most urgent question of our time.”

CNN’s Kayla Tausche contributed to this report.

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