‘Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames’: Biden slams Trump in Pa. campaign stop

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - on August 31: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks as members of the press listen during a campaign event at Mill 19 on August 31, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Biden criticized President Trump’s response to protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — Former Vice President Joe Biden denounced looting and rioting in an address from Pittsburgh on Monday, and accused President Donald Trump of being weak for not calling on his supporters to stop acting as armed militias. 

“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said. “Does anybody believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?”

The address comes after Republicans seem to have gained some traction among some voters. Amidst several days of violent clashes in the streets of Kenosha, Wisc., and Portland, Ore., Republican surrogates have used those events as fodder for their message that the unrest should be associated with local Democratic governance and a hypothetical Biden presidency.

Biden pushed several times against the notion that he was a “radical socialist” or condoned violence.

“You know me, you know my heart, you know my story, my family’s story,” Biden said. “Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” 

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The president tweeted about Biden’s speech shortly after it finished. “Just watched what Biden had to say. To me, he’s blaming the Police far more than he’s blaming the Rioters, Anarchists, Agitators, and Looters, which he could never blame or he would lose the Radical Left Bernie supports!”

The Trump campaign also tried to outflank Biden’s message with a call with reporters earlier in the day. The campaign’s surrogates included Sheriff Michael Slupe of Butler County, located a few miles north of Pittsburgh, who said in the call that Biden supporters are to blame for all the violence in Kenosha and Portland over the past week.

“They are ruining America,” Slupe said in the call with reporters. “They’re not peaceful demonstrators, as they keep saying — peaceful means quiet, holding up a sign. These demonstrators are burning buildings, looting businesses, ruining their towns.”

Armed self-identified Trump supporters have descended on protests in Kenosha and Portland, and several instances of shooting deaths have resulted in their clashing with protestors.

Biden also tried to further contrast himself with Trump by saying that he would help end violence if elected, that he’s already spoken to families of victims of police killings and could also bring police representatives to the table for solutions.

“I would lower the temperature of this country, not raise it,” Biden said.

Biden spoke at the Hazelwood Green brownfield site in Pittsburgh, the site of a former steel mill. Local foundations have teamed up in recent years to spur redevelopment on the site and provide spaces for high-tech companies to conduct research and development.

Biden’s trip to Pittsburgh for the speech marked a departure from his campaign-from-home strategy throughout most of the pandemic. The former vice president made few public appearances in the spring and summer as Trump sunk in the polls through the federal government’s botched response to COVID-19.

But more recently Biden has lost a small amount of ground, and the latest polls reflect calls to voters that took place before last week’s Republican National Convention and the recent headlines of violence. 

The most recent poll averages give Biden about a five-point advantage over Trump, according to both RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight.

Biden also clarified once more in his address that he would not ban fracking, no doubt a response to anti-Biden ads running in western Pennsylvania that claim he would do so, if elected.

Fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from reserves deep underground, has generated controversy in the region for years because of environmental concerns and its potential harm to drinking water. The area’s natural gas industry and trades unions have maintained strong support for fracking.

Both campaigns have stayed active in western Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign announced the president will be holding a rally at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe on Thursday.

Tom Lisi covers Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @TommyLisi.