Biden heads to France for D-Day anniversary, democracy speech

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President Joe Biden flew to France on Tuesday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day on a trip designed to underscore his commitment to US allies in Europe and contrast his vision of democracy with his 2024 political opponent Donald Trump.

Biden will spend five days in France and attend D-Day celebrations in Normandy, where US and allied forces stormed French beaches in an attack that helped defeat Nazi Germany in World War II, as well as deliver a high-profile speech and hold a formal state visit with President Emmanuel Macron.

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While in Normandy Biden will sit down for talks with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about the war effort to repel Russian invaders, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard the presidential flight to Paris.

Biden’s remarks in Normandy, both on Thursday at the formal 80th anniversary ceremony and on Friday at the famed Pointe du Hoc cliffs, will center around the dangers of isolationism and the need to stand up to dictators, Sullivan said.

Biden will draw a connection from World War Two through the Cold War and creation of the NATO alliance to today, “where we face once again war in Europe, where NATO has rallied to defend freedom and sovereignty.”

In what promises to be an emotional moment, Biden will meet the aged veterans who participated in the D-Day invasion.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the potential use of some $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine would be discussed by Biden and Macron during the visit.

Biden, a Democrat, is running for re-election in November against Trump, a Republican, and has made preserving and strengthening US democracy a key part of his campaign in the aftermath of Trump’s chaotic four years in office.

Trump refused to accept the results of the 2020 election, which sparked a deadly attack on the US Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021; he has vowed to go after political opponents, deport immigrants and punish whistleblowers in a second term.

Trump has threatened to abandon NATO allies if they do not bolster their defense spending and some fear he would pull the United States out of the alliance altogether if he were elected president again.

Biden’s message on democracy could be complicated by his staunch backing of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, after Hamas attacked Israel in October last year, killing over one thousand.

The International Criminal Court has charged Netanyahu with war crimes and some international allies and left-leaning voters in the United States want Biden to stop the flow of US military aid to Israel. The issue could hurt Biden in key states, including Michigan, in the November election.

The D-Day commemorations are set against a backdrop of a modern conflict in Europe, Russia’s more than 2-year war with Ukraine.

At a political fundraiser before his trip, Biden called the D-Day invasion “one of the most important moments in the history of defense of freedom and democracy in the history of the world” and said the sacrifices from that day must not be given up.

“Democracy is literally on the ballot this year. The future of democracy and freedom is at stake. We have brave soldiers who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy who did their part,” he told donors in Connecticut on Monday.

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