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Biden sharpens GOP criticism and goes after oil execs in closing campaign message

<i>Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP</i><br/>President Joe Biden
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
President Joe Biden

By Kevin Liptak and Arlette Saenz, CNN

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris used a rare joint campaign appearance Friday to sharpen their warnings of a prospective Republican takeover of Congress, a closing message designed to stanch Democratic losses amid stiff political and historic headwinds.

“Eleven days until the most important by-election in our lifetime; that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said. “It’s going to shape what this country looks like for next decade or more. Not a joke. Let’s be clear. This election is not a referendum, it’s a choice. A choice between two vastly different visions of America.”

For Democrats, the closing stretch of the midterms has been marked by anxiety over tighter-than-expected races and fears Republicans could make major gains in November. Democrats are fighting to hold onto their narrow majority in the 50-50 Senate.

Biden has spent much of his time this campaign season at official events working to promote his accomplishments, like passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and securing passage of a massive climate and health care bill.

But his team has been frustrated that his message doesn’t appear to be resonating with voters, who remain anxious about the economy and give Republicans higher marks in how they would handle issues like inflation.

In the closing stretch, they have determined a tougher message on Republicans’ plans could help convince voters to vote for Democrats. Biden has taken to naming Sen. Rick Scott, the Republican senate campaign chief, and Sen. Ron Johnson, for their plans on Medicare and Social Security.

Biden said Friday that the measures he’s been able to get passed in a narrow Senate — including lowering drug prices and expanding the Affordable Care Act — are at risk in November.

“These protections will be gone as well if Republicans get their way,” he said.

In his speech from Philadelphia, Biden reserved some of his harshest criticism not only for Republicans but for oil executives, who he accused of lining their pockets while Americans suffer from high gas prices.

“I’m going to keep harping on them. They talk about me picking on them. They ain’t seen nothing yet. I mean it. It outrages me,” he intoned.

And he accused Republicans who oppose his plan to relieve up to $20,000 in student debt per eligible borrower of being hypocrites.

“They’re attacking middle class Americans getting a $10,000 break on the cost of their tuition? Give me a break, man. Who do they think they are?” he said.

And he said some Republicans “seem to be hoping for a recession.”

Pennsylvania represents the party’s best opportunity to pick up a Senate seat, with incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey retiring. Biden and Harris’ appearance at the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s annual Independence Dinner, a major state party fundraising event, marked the first time the President attended an event with Democratic Senate hopeful Lt. Gov. John Fetterman since his high-stakes debate performance against Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz earlier this week.

Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, had an uneven performance in the debate, leading to worries among Democrats that the race could slip away. But in a conversation that was caught on camera this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Biden the debate “didn’t hurt us too much.”

Still, a loss in Pennsylvania would sting for Democrats and Biden in particular. Friday was Biden’s 19th visit to Pennsylvania since taking office, frequenting the commonwealth in a mix of official and political events in the run-up to the election, a contrast to his approach to the majority of competitive Senate races across the country.

Biden was born in Pennsylvania and was known as the commonwealth’s “third senator” when he was a lawmaker, despite representing neighboring Delaware. He’s focused more intently on the Senate race here than any other in the country.

At Friday’s speech, he pulled up a pantleg to show a red Phillies sock to mark the team’s first night playing in the World Series.

Biden is set to return to the Keystone state in the closing days of the campaign with expected appearances with his former boss, President Barack Obama, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Biden’s 2020 rival, former President Donald Trump, is expected to campaign in Pennsylvania next weekend as well.

While the President has eschewed large campaign rallies this election cycle, he has been a frequent presence on the fundraising circuit, crisscrossing the country to raise money for Democrats, including at Friday night’s dinner.

The fundraising reception was expected to raise $1 million.

In the final week before the election, the President is set to campaign for Democrats in Florida, including Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist and Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Val Demings, as well as travel to New Mexico for events with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other local officials.

Democrats also said Biden would hold a rally in Maryland on November 7, the evening before Election Day.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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