Throughout the speech Monday, Biden praised veterans’ sacrifice for democracy and defended democracy’s aspirations, though he said the U.S. hadn’t always lived up to them. He called empathy “the fuel of democracy.”
The president said that “we all” take democracy “for granted,” saying “the biggest question” is whether the system of democracy can win out over opposing “powerful forces.”
“All that we do in our common life as a nation is part of that struggle,” Biden said. “A struggle for democracy. It’s taking place around the world, democracy and autocracy.”
Biden has previously said that America’s ability to be competitive with China will help determine whether democracy or autocracy wins out. Biden’s speech comes ahead of an overseas trip to meet with NATO and European Union allies in Europe next month, followed by a meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on June 16 in Geneva.
After Biden over the weekend laid into an ultimately Democratic-blocked Texas bill that would have added new voting restrictions, calling it an “assault on democracy,” he nodded on Monday to a wave of states considering or implementing new limits.
“Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong,” the president said. “When people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently.”
Biden, who often speaks of the immense tragedies in his own personal life, talked about his late son, Beau, a veteran who died of brain cancer six years ago Sunday, to connect with families who have lost veterans.
“It’s a hard time, a hard time of year for me and our family. Just like it is for so many of you,” the president said. “It can hurt to remember. But the hurt is how we feel. And how we heal. I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day.”
Biden’s address came a day after he spoke at a ceremony in New Castle, Del., which he has attended most years for decades. At the ceremony on Sunday, he paid tribute to Beau Biden and said military members are “the guardians of us and we’re the guardians of their legacy.”
Biden’s speech Monday followed appearances by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who both paid tribute to American veterans during the Arlington event.
Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance, along with second gentleman Doug Emhoff and first lady Jill Biden. The president greeted families and posed for a photo with a family, according to a pool report.