Biden pays tribute to American war dead with cemetery visit ending trip to France that served as rebuke to Trump

BELLEAU, France (AP) — President Joe Biden closed his trip to France by paying tribute in an American military cemetery that Donald Trump notably did not visit when he was president, hoping that his last stop on Sunday will highlight the issues of November election with deep relief.

Before returning to the United States, Biden paid tribute to American war dead at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery about an hour from Paris. He laid a wreath in the cemetery chapel in front of an expanse of white headstones marking the final resting place of more than 2,200 American soldiers who fought in World War I.

It was a solemn end to five days in which Trump was an unspoken but unavoidable presence. Ostensibly, the trip marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day and celebrated the alliance between the United States and France. But in an election year where Trump challenged fundamental understandings of America’s global role, Biden embraced his Republican predecessor — and potential successor — as a latent foil.

Each type the transatlantic partnership It was a reminder that Trump could upend these relationships. Every reference to democracy was a counterpoint to his rival’s efforts to overturn a presidential election. The countless exhortations to help Ukraine defend itself Opposition to Russia contrasts with Trump’s skepticism about U.S. aid.

Biden’s paeans to the struggle between democracy and autocracy drew applause in Europe, where the prospect of a return to Trump’s turbulent rule has sparked widespread concern. But it remains to be seen how the message will resonate with American voters, as Biden’s campaign struggles to connect the dire warnings the Democratic president so often issues about his rival with people’s everyday concerns.

The visit to the cemetery was an opportunity to once again highlight the contrast.

“It’s the same story,” Biden said. “America appeared. America showed up to stop the Germans. America has come forward to make sure they don’t prevail. And America shows up when we’re needed, just like our allies do for us. »

During a trip to France in 2018, Trump opted out of visiting the cemetery, a decision the White House made. attributed to the weather at the time. However, subsequent reports said Trump told aides he didn’t want to go because he considered the dead soldiers “suckers” and “losers.” Trump denied the remarks, although they were later corroborated by his then-chief of staff, John Kelly.

Trump’s alleged insults have become a recurring feature of Biden’s campaign speeches, including during a rally in April in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“These soldiers were heroes, like all Americans who served this nation,” Biden said. “Believing otherwise is enough to disqualify someone from running for this position. »

Biden ignored a direct question about Trump at the cemetery. “The idea that I would come to Normandy and not make the little trip here to pay my respects,” he added, his voice trailing off as if to express his disbelief.

Maura Sullivan, a former Navy officer who served on the U.S. Battle Monuments Commission under President Barack Obama, said Biden’s visit would “set an example and do what a president should do.” Now the head of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Sullivan said “voters can draw their own conclusions.”

Biden’s trip was full of emotional moments and the president was left heavy-eyed after meeting with World War II veterans. A 21-gun salvo sprayed eerie smoke over 9,388 white marble headstones at the Normandy American Cemetery.

“This has been the most remarkable trip I’ve ever taken,” Biden said Saturday evening, his last in Paris before returning to the United States.

In Aisne-Marne, Biden said the trip “surprised me how much it made me understand why it’s so valuable to have these alliances.” Why is it so critical. This is how we stop wars, not start them. »

His comments in recent days were also loaded with political connotations.

At the Normandy anniversary ceremonies on Thursday, Biden said D-Day was a reminder that alliances make the United States stronger, calling it “a lesson I pray we as Americans will never forget.” . He also highlighted how the war effort relied on immigrants, women and people of color, too often neglected by history.

Then on Friday he traveled to Pointe du Hoc, a spot on the coast where Army Rangers scaled cliffs to defeat Nazi defenses on D-Day and which was also the site, in 1984, of one of President Ronald Reagan’s most memorable speeches on the struggles between the West and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Following in the footsteps of an iconic Republican, Biden has honed his appeal to traditional conservatives who are often frustrated by Trump’s isolationist vision. Biden appealed to Americans to protect democracy like the Rangers who scaled the cliffs, a message that dovetails with campaign rhetoric that paints his election opponent as an existential threat to American values.

While Biden was in France, his campaign announced that it had hired the former Republican representative’s former chief of staff. Adam Kinzinger will lead outreach to GOP voters. Kinzinger clashed with Trump’s foreign policy and his efforts to overturn the last presidential election.

At Pointe du Hoc, Biden said the Army Rangers “fought to defeat a hateful ideology in the ’30s and ’40s.” Does anyone doubt they would move heaven and earth to defeat the hateful ideologies of today?

Trump argued that the United States needed to devote more attention to its own problems and less to foreign alliances and entanglements. He has also regularly downplayed the importance of American partnerships, suggesting that the United States might abandon its conventional commitments to defend its European allies if it does not pay enough for its own defense.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who wrote a book about Pointe du Hoc and Reagan’s speech, said Biden “had big shoes to fill” in choosing the same location.

Biden’s speech “did not match Reagan’s in grandeur, nor could it,” Brinkley said. Still, he said Biden “said the right words about the importance of democracy.”

Paul Begala, a veteran Democratic strategist, said it could help Biden politically to “stand where Reagan stood.”

He noted that Biden is struggling with younger voters, but appears to be gaining strength among older voters, who might be more receptive to reminders of Reagan’s speech four decades ago.

“He needs a lot of Reagan Republicans to make up for his difficulties with young voters,” he said.

Biden’s trip was also punctuated by the pomp of a state visit to Paris.

French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Arc du Triomphe, where four fighter jets flew over the country, and hosted a banquet at the Elysée presidential palace.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” Macron said, toasting Biden. “Allies we are, and allies we will remain. »

Overall, Biden’s visit had a slower pace than other foreign trips. The 81-year-old president had no public events on his first day in Paris after arriving on an overnight flight, and did not hold a news conference with reporters, as is usual. John Kirby, national security spokesman, said it was necessary to prepare “in advance of important engagements” in the following days.

“There are a lot of things on the calendar,” he said.

However, this contrasted with Macron’s tendency to offer his high-profile guests an intense schedule with a mix of official meetings, business talks, cultural events and private dinners in chic restaurants.

When the 46-year-old French leader received Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, the two-day agenda was packed with activities, including a trip to the Pyrenees, near the border with Spain, where Macron spent time when he was a child.


Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

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