Former Vice President Joe Biden held his first rally in his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Monday, saying he is running to restore the soul of the nation and to "rebuild the backbone" of America.
Biden spoke in Pittsburgh at a rally held by the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed him earlier in the day. Biden declared himself "a union man" and said, "We need a president who works for all Americans."
Biden began his remarks by referencing Saturday's fatal shooting at a synagogue in Poway, Calif. "We're in a battle for America's soul — I really believe it — and we have to restore it," Biden said, tying the California shooting to the shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue six months ago, in which 11 worshippers were killed, as well as the deadly violence at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
Charlottesville was also central to Biden's announcement video, released April 25 after much speculation about whether he would run.
Most of Biden's remarks on Monday centered on economic issues of concern to middle-class voters, who made up much of President Trump's support in 2016. "If I'm gonna beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here in Western Pennsylvania," Biden said. Pennsylvania was one of three previously reliably Democratic industrial states that Trump captured in 2016.
"The middle class is hurting," Biden said, calling himself "Middle Class Joe." Conceding some economic markers were positive, Biden said the stock market "is roaring," but he added, "you don't feel it. [The] $2 trillion tax cut," Biden continued, "did you feel it?"
Sounding a populist theme, Biden also criticized General Motors for closing a number of auto plants "the second they hit hard times" and moving production to Mexico.
He also called for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour and said noncompete agreements, which prohibit some workers even in relatively low-paying jobs from moving to a competing employer, were "wrong."
Biden called for reversing "Trump's tax cut for the wealthy," saying there was some $1.6 trillion in tax loopholes that could be closed, which would provide enough to send 6 million people to community college free.
He also addressed health care, saying the Affordable Care Act approved while he was vice president to former President Barack Obama was "a huge step forward."
"We have to stop this administration's efforts to gut it," he said. Biden revealed he favors allowing Americans not now covered by Medicare to buy into the plan, what's known as the public option.
"Everybody knows who Donald Trump is," Biden said, drawing distinctions with Trump, whom he called the only president who "decided not to represent the whole country."
"We have to let them know who we are," he said, adding, "We ... have to choose hope over fear, unity over division, and maybe most importantly truth over lies."
A previous version of this story misattributed a quote. President Trump did not say, "If I'm gonna beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here in Western Pennsylvania." It was Joe Biden.