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‘Inflation is sapping the strength’ of American families, Biden tells labor leaders in Philadelphia

President Joe Biden addressed labor leaders in Philadelphia on Tuesday, acknowledging the economic pains Americans are feeling but touting progress he said his administration has made.

President Joe Biden speaks during a labor convention in Philadelphia.
President Joe Biden speaks during a labor convention in Philadelphia.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

President Joe Biden acknowledged the economic pains Americans are feeling while pointing to progress he said his administration has made to build an economy around working people in an address to labor leaders in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Biden, speaking at the AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, blamed Republicans in Congress for “doing everything they can to stop my plan to bring down costs for ordinary Americans.”

“That’s why my plan is not finished, and why the results aren’t finished either,” Biden said. “Jobs are back, but prices are still too high. COVID is down, but gas prices are up. Our work isn’t done. But here’s the deal: America still has a choice to make. A choice between a government by the few — for the few — or a government for all of us. Democracy for all of us. An economy where all of us have a fair shot and a chance to earn our place in the economy.”

The president’s stop comes in the midst of continuing economic worries. Inflation continues to climb, according to last week’s consumer report, gas prices remain high, and Wall Street opened this week with big losses. The Fed was considering a significant interest rate hike.

The latest employment report for May showed strong gains in new jobs and a low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent. But Biden has struggled to convey much optimism on the economy, and his already-low approval ratings have slumped in recent weeks. The state of the economy has become Biden’s biggest problem, and Democrats worry it will affect their already-ominous prospects of electoral success in the fall.

“These gas prices are out of control,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Paris Dennard said in a call with reporters ahead of Biden’s speech. “But you don’t see any leadership coming out of Washington from Joe Biden.”

Economy a priority, Biden says

At the convention on Tuesday, Biden tried to put a positive spin on the state of the economy and blamed Republicans for blocking legislation he said would help the middle class. He also called rising prices a key priority, acknowledging “inflation is sapping the strength of a lot of families.”

» READ MORE: What soaring inflation means for your household

But Biden also stressed the importance of legislation that he says has better equipped the country to absorb economic hits. He touted the American Rescue Plan and a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and noted the deficit is on track to be slashed this year.

“I don’t want to hear any more of these lies about reckless spending. We’re changing people’s lives,” Biden said, his voice rising.

Biden blamed former President Donald Trump, in part, for the economic situation Americans face today.

“Policies of the past created more billionaires than ever in American history,” he said. “That’s what we inherited.” Echoing a line he ran on during his presidential campaign, Biden said America’s economic vision must “look out from Scranton ... not down from Wall Street.”

He also tried to make a distinction between his policies and an economic proposal from Florida Sen. Rick Scott that would sunset all federal legislation five years after it passes.

“Ask yourself, how are they going to sleep at night knowing that every five years, Ted Cruz and the other ultra-MAGA Republicans are going to vote on whether you’ll have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?” Biden said.

Republicans on Tuesday used Biden’s visit to blast all Democrats as “radical,” and out of touch with the American people.

“Biden talks about his Scranton roots, but he couldn’t care less about the struggles hardworking Pennsylvanians face today,” RNC spokesperson Rachel Lee said. “Soaring inflation, record gas prices, and a baby formula shortage are only a few of the crises he’s dealt Keystone State families.”

» READ MORE: See how much gas costs around Philadelphia right now

Biden said in his address that bringing down food and gas prices is a key priority, while admitting progress there could take some time. He said the White House is working with European allies to get around Russian blockades of grain exports from Ukraine.

He has consistently blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for rising energy prices, though other factors have contributed. The administration’s release of crude oil from the strategic reserve has done little to drive down prices.

Biden on Fetterman

He also emphasized the power of unions to elect pro-union candidates in 2022. He said he’d had a Zoom call Monday with Lt. Gov John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

“I know he can’t wait to get back on the trail,” Biden said of Fetterman, who is recovering from a May 13 stroke. “He’s looking good. There’s no bigger, stronger voice for working people in the state than John. Certainly no bigger.”

In criticizing Biden, Republicans on Tuesday, including U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, tried to bind the president to Fetterman. But, in doing so, they relied on a debunked claim that Fetterman is a “self-described socialist.”

Pressed on that, Keller said he would point to Fetterman’s proposed policies to justify calling him a socialist. Dennard said he “would not describe Fetterman as a conservative capitalist.”

The AFL-CIO comprises 57 unions and 12.5 million workers. Its convention is held every four years for leaders to vote on strategy to guide the labor movement’s future.

Biden has often highlighted his ties to and support for labor unions, and has said a number of times that he intends to be “the most pro-union president” in history. Support from unions was key to his win in key swing states in the 2020 election.

“You’re a gigantic reason why I’m standing here,” he told the crowd.

He spent a good portion of the speech praising labor, and ended his address with a rousing call for members to continue to support him in a moment when he’s struggled to get a clear message out.

“I promise I’m going to keep fighting for you. Are you prepared to keep fighting for me?” he asked as the friendly crowd rose and started chanting his first name.

“Let’s fight together. Let’s keep building a better America.”

Biden’s stop at the AFL-CIO convention marks his third presidential trip to Philadelphia this year.

In March, Biden appeared at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing to give remarks at the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference, a party retreat. There, he encouraged House Democrats to campaign on his American Rescue Plan — which he said lifted people out poverty and boosted employment — ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

In January, the president and first lady Jill Biden visited Philabundance in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The pair helped pack boxes of food that would be sent to the Feast of Justice food pantry in Northeast Philadelphia and Mid-Atlantic States Career & Education Center Inc. in Pennsville, Salem County. Biden also visited Philabundance in 2021 in honor of the holiday.

Staff writers Chris Brennan and Nick Vadala contributed to this article.