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Biden To Kick Off Presidential Campaign With A Rally In Pittsburgh


It is go time for Joe Biden. He launched his presidential run last week, and today, he'll go to Pittsburgh to hold his first campaign rally. Biden has been down this road before - twice, actually. This is his third go at the White House. His first bid was more than three decades ago - June, 1987, to be exact - when then-Senator Joe Biden stood outside a Wilmington train station in Delaware and said this.


JOE BIDEN: We have been lulled by the anthem of self-interest. And for a decade, led by Ronald Reagan, self-aggrandizement has become the full-throated cry of this society. I've got mine, so why don't you go get yours?

MARTIN: That campaign was hit by allegations of speech plagiarism. It only lasted a little more than three months before Biden withdrew from the race. Fast-forward 32 years, and that idea of a divided society that Biden talked about back then is now front and center ahead of 2020. NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben is in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Danielle.


MARTIN: So why Pittsburgh for the campaign kickoff event?

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. You know, observant listeners might notice that it's not in Iowa.

MARTIN: Right. Exactly.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, so candidates are sending particular messages with where they're going. I mean, first of all, Joe Biden is famously from Pennsylvania. He mentions that often. But aside from that, you know, there are a few things.

One is theme. His whole kickoff speech - his team has said - is going to be about the middle class, about the dignity of work. And Pittsburgh notably has a big union presence. He's going to be giving the speech at a Teamsters hall. And, you know, there are steelworkers in Pennsylvania. So it's a fitting place for that message.

Aside from that, you know, this is a state that Trump won - much to the consternation of Democrats everywhere. So you can see this as almost a sort of early, very early, general election play. I mean, in his opening video, Biden really took the fight to Trump - not necessarily his fellow Democrats.

So this could be his way of trying to do that. And to be clear, he is going to be heading to Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, later. So he's not leaving that aside.

MARTIN: Right. Yeah. So a long political career, as Biden has had, means a long record that can be scrutinized. And that includes a seminal moment in his career - his handling of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, which included testimony from Anita Hill about her sexual misconduct allegations against Thomas. So how has Joe Biden answered questions about this?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, so most notably, what has gotten the most news is that he went on "The View" on Friday on ABC. And he told the panelists that he always believed Anita Hill's story. And he also offered some very limited, particularly limited, apologies. He said, in a very passive voice sort of, I'm sorry about how she was treated. But he stopped short of personally saying he did anything wrong - I'm sorry how I treated her.

MARTIN: Right.

KURTZLEBEN: Here's what he said.


BIDEN: I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules.

KURTZLEBEN: And aside from that, a big line that really made news from this was he said, I don't think I treated her badly. Now, there are plenty on the left who disagree. He was pushed by "The View" hosts on this. You know, there are some who say he wasn't hard enough on the Republicans who attacked her then - that he should have worked harder to get corroborating witnesses to bolster Anita Hill's story. Now, this question is not going to go away. You can imagine it coming up in more pugilistic...


KURTZLEBEN: ...Places than "The View" - like a Democratic debate stage.

MARTIN: Debate stage (laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: So you can imagine that'll come up more.

MARTIN: How's his entry into the race affecting the other Democratic candidates?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, you've already seen them - right after he entered - sending out fundraising emails. Joe Biden had a very strong start to his campaign. He's leading in the polls. He got more than $6 million in his first 24 hours. So you really saw other candidates send out these fundraising emails - Beto O'Rourke, former Texas congressman, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sending out these emails saying, look, Joe Biden is really big. We need to take the fight to him.

MARTIN: And President Trump, he's already weighing in.

KURTZLEBEN: He has insulted Joe Biden. He had a tweet last week saying, welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe. He insulted Joe Biden's intelligence. And he really got kind of defensive about also some of the attacks that Joe Biden made against him about Trump's response to Charlottesville, for example.

MARTIN: OK. We will likely see more of that.


MARTIN: NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben. Thanks.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.