Sat. May 18th, 2024

White House plans to limit Biden’s graduation speeches as campuses erupt in protests

By 37ci3 Apr27,2024

WASHINGTON – The White House plans to pick a president amid growing protests by pro-Palestinian demonstrators on college campuses Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are expected to attend a traditional spring ceremony minimally: delivering commencement speeches.

Biden is scheduled Speak at Morehouse College and will deliver the commencement address at the US Military Academy at West Point in May, while Harris will deliver the commencement address only at the Air Force Academy. First lady Jill Biden, who teaches at a community college, is expected to give the commencement speech, though no school has been named.

Two White House officials noted that the number of speeches by Biden and Harris was the same as in the previous two years. By comparison, then-President Barack Obama gave speeches at the Air Force Academy, Barnard College and Joplin High School when he was seeking re-election in 2012. That same year, then-Vice President Biden spoke at West Point and battleground high schools in Virginia and Florida.

Another White House official declined to foresee how Biden might handle the campus unrest. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters this week that Biden always sees the addresses as “a special time to deliver a message — a message of hope, a message of hope to graduates and their families.”

“He will do everything he can to meet that moment as it relates to what’s going on, to the pain that the communities are feeling,” he said.

Biden campaign officials say that despite the media’s focus on campus protests, public opinion polls and their own research show that young voters are more interested in other issues. A A new survey from Harvard University It found that inflation and health care topped the list of most important issues for voters aged 18-29. Gun violence, the preservation of democracy, climate change and women’s reproductive rights were also higher than the war in Gaza.

But John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, said his polls and other studies highlight the challenges Biden faces in this environment, as well as an opportunity to boost his support by allaying concerns about the Gaza leader. – In a setting such as a commencement ceremony where students, as well as their parents, faculty and administrators gather together.

“This is an important opportunity to try to bridge those divides, as perhaps only Biden can do. Because there are differences of opinion on this issue.”

While the situation in Gaza is not high on the list of issues identified as a priority by young voters, Della Volpe compared it to an issue like climate change, where if a candidate doesn’t share their views, voters won’t connect with them. other issues.

“One of the first things young people tell me is that they feel misunderstood,” Della Volpe said. “It is necessary to accept that we are seriously working towards a permanent ceasefire. It is necessary to admit that we are moving towards a two-state solution. Admittedly, we are doing everything humanly possible to free hostages and give people dignity.”

A graduate holds a sign
A graduate holds a sign as President Joe Biden speaks at Howard University’s commencement on May 13, 2023.Alex Brandon / AP file

The Biden campaign has been “busy” for months finding new and innovative ways to woo young voters, according to a senior official. The campaign notes that it launched a youth voter program earlier than past presidential campaigns and has already deployed staff to begin organizing a presence at colleges in targeted states.

Eve Levenson, the Biden campaign’s national youth outreach coordinator, said physical outreach on campuses is just one part of a strategy to reach young voters. The campaign focuses heavily on targeting college students online through its digital program and paid advertising on major social media apps. He said there is a strong focus on reaching young voters who are not enrolled in college, both through an organizational program and by attending large community gatherings such as music festivals and sporting events.

Levenson said next week the campaign will launch a major effort targeting young voters on abortion rights leading up to the end of the school year.

“We know from our conversations that young voters plan to vote, and voters plan to vote for us,” he said. “I think there will always be things that not all people agree with us. And our job is to clarify what the contrast is, how interesting this election is. And to remind people of this.”

Last fall, Harris conducted what the White House called the “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour, where he visited nine different campuses and spoke to a combined 15,000 students. Biden has held recent events at small colleges with small and scrutinized audiences. Large-scale campaign-style rallies on or near campuses have been a staple of general election campaigns, especially for Democratic candidates, but the Biden campaign is focusing on more intimate gatherings that can be captured and broadcast by its digital team.

D-Calif., Rep. Ro Khanna visited multiple Wisconsin college campuses this week as a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. He said inflation and health care were the top concerns among students, as a Harvard survey showed, but the situation in Gaza was often a topic of respectful discussion.

“Gaza is a difficult issue. We can’t just wish for it,” he said. “It would be wrong to think that this did not affect the organizers and activists who helped the president gain support.”

He also said that Biden should not hesitate to directly address the issue with young voters.

“This is by no means the only problem. It’s not even the #1 issue. But it is in the conversation,” he said. “This kind of engagement shows students that they matter, that their voices are heard.”

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