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Biden mentions Ukraine in a speech from the site of a historic D-Day battle

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden is being celebrated in Paris with a parade, a private meeting with French President Macron and, tonight, a gala dinner. Of course, the president is in France for a much more solemn reason. He marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. And yesterday, he gave an address to the American people from one of the most storied sites of that battle, Pointe du Hoc. NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith was there. Thanks so much for being with us, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

SIMON: What did the president want to most get across in his speech?

KEITH: Well, he was at this memorial to the Rangers, the Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs under a hail of bullets and grenades to take out German firing positions on D-Day. It is this incredible story. Most of them didn't survive the mission. None of the veterans are still living. But Biden invoked their memory.

It was a short speech, fewer than 15 minutes. But it was aimed at inspiring the American people to want to defend democracy. And Biden drew a link between the Allies' fight against the Nazis and the West's support of Ukraine now in its fight against Russia. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Does anyone doubt that they would want America to stand up against Putin's aggression here in Europe today?

SIMON: And he also met with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy, didn't he?

KEITH: Right. Earlier in the day, he did meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been in France for some of the D-Day commemorations. And this is significant - he specifically apologized to the Ukrainian leader for the delay in getting him funding, blaming it on opposition from, quote, "some of our very conservative members" who were holding it up.

And during that meeting, he announced an additional package of $225 million in aid for Ukraine's defense that would be released to Ukraine. And the leaders also discussed, though not in front of the press, military strategy and had a frank conversation, we're told, about where things stand.

SIMON: Tam, the president obviously marked a solemn, historic occasion, but was there a political dimension to his speech as well?

KEITH: There always is. It was not overtly stated. But if you wanted to look for comparisons to former President Trump or implications about what a second Trump presidency would be, it was certainly there. Biden has been saying over the course of his time here that democracy is more threatened today, both in America and across the globe, than it has been any time since World War II. And as part of this speech, he urged Americans to think of democracy as a cause greater than themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: American democracy asks the hardest of things - to believe that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. So democracy begins with each of us, begins when one person decides there's something more important than themselves.

KEITH: And I will note that defending freedom and democracy are quite literally themes of President Biden's reelection campaign.

SIMON: And the president is going to another military cemetery tomorrow, this one northeast of Paris, where there was a pivotal battle in the first world war. What's the significance of the president's appearance there?

KEITH: More than 2,200 Americans who fought and died in World War I are buried at that cemetery. And it is the same cemetery that former President Trump, back in 2018, was supposed to visit, and then he skipped. The White House said it was because of bad weather, but a different story emerged two years later in an article in The Atlantic magazine. And that is something that Biden talks about at every fundraiser he does and often in public events too, including this one in Scranton, Pa., a few weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I have to say, there are a lot of things that Donald Trump has said and done that I find extremely offensive. The one that offends me the most is when he refused, as president, to visit the American cemetery outside of Paris when he was president. And why? He said that those soldiers who gave their lives were, quote - this was his quote - "suckers and losers."

KEITH: Now, Trump has denied that he denigrated the people buried there. He has denied that repeatedly, though his former chief of staff, John Kelly, has gone on the record in recent months confirming the details of that Atlantic story.

SIMON: Do we expect that Donald Trump will be brought up at this appearance?

KEITH: It is highly unlikely that he will invoke Trump's name because, remember, he will be at a cemetery, and the whole purpose of that visit is to honor the war dead. However, when he is back and he is at fundraisers or at - giving campaign speeches, I can absolutely guarantee it that he is going to bring up this experience of being there and Trump not.

SIMON: NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome, and au revoir.

SIMON: (Laughter) Au revoir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.