Wednesday, July 24, 2024

First Lady spotlights Biden’s veteran advocacy in Wilmington campaign visit

First Lady Jill Biden spends time in Wilmington as part of Biden–Harris campaign initiative for veterans and military members and family. (Port City daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

WILMINGTON — First Lady Jill Biden made a brief appearance at a Wilmington brewery Monday as part of a Biden–Harris campaign initiative, aimed at demonstrating and garnering support for veterans, military personnel and their families. 

“Joe has made it clear that he’s all in,” the First Lady remarked about her husband, the sitting president. 

President Joe Biden’s ability to lead another four years has been questioned in recent weeks, since he demonstrated a poor performance during last month’s first debate of the election season against former president Donald Trump. Many have called for Biden to step down, even members in the Democratic Party, citing perceived cognitive decline.

However, Biden has insisted he will not.

“I am all in too,” his wife told the enthusiastic supporters chanting “four more years” Monday.  

The event was held at Hi-Wire Brewing where roughly a couple hundred people were in attendance, including members of the New Hanover and Brunswick county Democratic parties, Democratic House Rep. Deb Butler, Democratic school board candidate Tim Merrick, and Democratic House candidate Jill Brown. 

The First Lady stepped to the lecture around noon, introduced by Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and U.S. Army veteran Jason Cain, who previously served as North Carolina’s Assistant Secretary for Military Affairs.

Speaking on behalf of her husband, the First Lady emphasized key accomplishments for veterans and military from her husband’s first term in office — work that continued from his vice presidency under Obama’s administration (2008-2012). Biden also shared her family’s connections to the U.S. military, mentioning their late son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a deployment to Iraq, and her father’s role as a Navy Signalman.

“Of all the obligations that Joe has shouldered since he took his oath of office, he believes the only truly one sacred obligation is to prepare those we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home,” Biden said.

First Lady Jill Biden touches on President Biden’s support for veterans and the military in a speech at Hi-Wire Brewing. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

She highlighted the president’s 2023 executive order, emphasizing the role of military-connected families in national security. She detailed nearly 20 comprehensive measures, like job openings in federal positions, on and off-base childcare access, and entrepreneurial support, such as evaluating access to capital gaps and other resources that can be used to start or grow a small business. 

Additionally, Biden mentioned her husband’s ongoing participation in Joining Forces, an initiative she co-founded during the Obama-Biden administration. It assists military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors by helping them obtain flexible or remote job opportunities, get childcare and measures to help military children in the classroom. 

She also discussed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, signed into law in August 2022. It expands healthcare and benefits for veterans who have chronic illnesses, like asthma, and cancers due to exposure to toxins from burn pits during service. 

“In North Carolina, 74,000 veterans and survivors have expanded healthcare access; 45,000 have already gotten their benefits granted,” Cain said.

The act introduced 20 new presumptive conditions related to toxic exposure, streamlined the claims process, reduced the burden of proof on veterans, and mandated the VA to administer toxic exposure screenings.

“This is personal to us,” Biden said. “We know what it’s like to wait to connect on a lagging phone call from across the world to smile through another holiday with an empty chair at the table. Let me ask you this: Does Donald Trump know what it’s like?” 

The First Lady emphasized instances where Trump allegedly disparaged and failed to support veterans and military personnel, citing his remarks about service members being “suckers” and his reluctance to stand with wounded amputees because it “didn’t look good” for him. These comments were revealed in October 2023 by Trump’s former Chief of Staff John Kelly in a statement to CNN, disclosing private comments made by Trump, which he has denied.

“It’s disgraceful,” Biden said. “Donald Trump wakes up every morning thinking about one person and one person only: himself. We know what Donald Trump was like as Commander in Chief, he dismissed the military community and diminished America’s leadership around the world.” 

Mayor Bill Saffo takes the podium with Jason Cain and Jill Biden beside him. (Port City Daily/ Jalyn Baldwin)

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo shared similar opinions during his opening remarks and criticized Trump. He pointed to Trump’s budget cuts affecting veterans during his presidency, such as a 2020 $1.6 trillion cut to Medicaid and Medicare, used by 11 million veterans combined. The former president also made budget cuts to funding for the Housing and Urban Development’s rental assistance programs, granting no additional funds for the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Vouchers (HUD-VASH) program.

“But we have a choice, and people here in North Carolina are prepared to do the hard work to stand up for the men and women who fought to protect our democracy by voting for Joe Biden in November,” Mayor Saffo said.

Brunswick County Democratic Party Chair Shelley Allen was in attendance and stood behind First Lady Biden on stage. She told Port City Daily in an interview afterward she found Biden “inspiring,” specifically praising the PACT Act and other legislation he has supported. 

“I appreciated her contrasting that to the convicted felon’s utter disrespect and disregard for our military — and the fact that he wakes up every morning only thinking of himself, not us,” Allen said.

Many view Biden’s next few weeks of campaigning as pivotal for his standing in the election, especially following a challenging performance in his televised CNN debate with Trump. According to a Bloomberg poll, only 13% of people in the survey found Biden favored Trump in the debate, which garnered a little more than 51 million viewers. 

Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, have publicly called for Biden to withdraw from the race. 

“If he’s the candidate, I’m going to support him, but I think that this is an opportunity to look elsewhere,” Grijalva told the New York Times in an article published last week. “What [Biden] needs to do is shoulder the responsibility for keeping that seat — and part of that responsibility is to get out of this race.”

First Lady Biden refrained from directly addressing her husband’s physical or mental fitness for the presidency, instead focusing on his character. She urged North Carolinians to discuss and raise awareness about the significance of his term and to actively engage in canvassing and voter turnout efforts within their communities.

North Carolina is considered a battleground state, which Trump won in 2020, 49.9% to Biden’s 48.6%. New Hanover County voters narrowly selected Biden 50.08% to Trump’s 48.18%.

“We have to meet this moment as if our freedoms are at risk because they are. As if the future of America and the leadership of the world hangs in the ballot, because it does,” Biden said. “As if our democracy is on the line because it is.”

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