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Biden shakes off protest fears at Morehouse for Georgia battleground gains

Biden shakes off protest fears at Morehouse for Georgia battleground gains  at george magazine

President Joe Biden‘s two commencement speeches next month will take on added importance with both the election and college campus protests grabbing headlines.

Biden will speak at Morehouse College, a prominent historically black school in Atlanta, on May 19 and at the U.S. Military Academy on May 25. The former has drawn a larger share of attention due to Georgia’s status as a crucial swing state and concerns that anti-Israel protests could greet the president.

“This week, I received an inquiry from concerned faculty about rumors they were hearing about President Biden’s selection as the 2024 Commencement speaker,” Morehouse provost Kendrick Brown wrote in an email to faculty members last week, according to NBC News. Brown said he would convene a meeting on Thursday for faculty to “ask questions and make comments.”

Social media was also abuzz with talk of protests or walkouts at the commencement ceremony.

Yet Roger Bruce, a longtime Georgia state representative and 1975 Morehouse College graduate, said he doesn’t expect such activities to materialize at scale.

“People will make something out of nothing if it suits their thought process,” he said. “The man is the president of the United States, and he’s doing a good job.”

Bruce said he plans to attend the ceremony and said that Biden’s presence at graduation reflects well on the school. But while he’s sympathetic to the views of protesters, he says the Israel-Hamas conflict generally is “not a black college issue in my mind.”

Campus protests have dominated at other schools, however, with Columbia University moving to remote classes as more than 100 people have been arrested at the Ivy League institution.

“We know this is a painful moment for many communities,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Tuesday. “We respect that, and we support every American’s right to peacefully protest. But as I said, when we witness calls for violence, physical intimidation, hateful antisemitic rhetoric, those are unacceptable.”

Biden will be joined at Morehouse by another alumnus, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and has received positive statements from the school president and student government leaders.

“We are a community of scholars who are familiar with and understand the complexities associated with engaging many of our socio-political guests,” Morehouse Student Government Association President Mekhi Perrin said. “President Biden’s visit is yet another opportunity for our community to engage in his presentation and remain open to his reflections while maintaining a critical investigation of goodwill.”

Even so, campus protests have become a hot-button issue for Biden, one that his top political rival is happy to point out.

“What’s going on at the colleges, Columbia, [New York University], and others, is a disgrace,” former President Donald Trump said. “And it’s really on Biden. He has the wrong signal. He’s got the wrong tone. He’s got the wrong words. He doesn’t know who he’s backing. And it’s a mess.”

Trump holds a 4-point lead over Biden in Georgia, per the RealClearPolitics voting average, meaning Biden will have some ground to make up if he’s going to win the state for a second time.

“It’s no coincidence that Joe Biden’s handlers signed him up to speak at Morehouse College days after President Trump received a tremendous reception in Atlanta and was warmly greeted by many of Morehouse’s very own students at Chick-Fil-A,” the Trump campaign said. “Biden’s team is panicking because Joe Biden no longer has a base, and African Americans are supporting President Trump by a historic margin.”

Andra Gillespie, a professor at Emory University whose research covers African American politics, said Biden’s speech could help him reach a demographic, black men, that some polls indicate is drifting toward Trump.

“I think the timing of this is intentional,” she said. “This is the type of speech that will get media attention, particularly in black media sources.”

To that end, Gillespie argues that the symbolism of Biden speaking at the all-male school is important irrespective of what he says.

“He doesn’t want an election loss to be attributed to a small attrition of black votes and particularly black men in battleground states,” she said.

She predicted that the White House and Morehouse administration would make contingency plans and may meet with student groups to ensure that protests, if they take place, are done “productively” rather than in a way that leads to disruptions or hecklers.

Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, gave a commencement speech at Morehouse in 2013 that included takes on personal responsibility that drew controversy in some circles.


Gillespie said Biden should avoid going down that road and predicted he will.

“I expect him to talk about policies that his administration has championed and implemented that directly help young people,” she said, “and in particular, black young people.”

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