Biden Blasts Abbott and DeSantis: 'Playing Politics With Human Beings'

In a short meat and potatoes speech Thursday, Joe Biden touted his administration's work for the Latino community and blasted Republicans for their stance on issues like immigration, as he sought to rally Latino voters ahead of a high-stakes November midterm election that will decide which party controls Congress.

Walking out to cheers and applause at the Washington, D.C., gala for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, their first in-person convention during the pandemic-era, Biden began by singing happy birthday to Representative Nanette Barragán along with the audience.

The president's speech resumed the recent tradition of Democratic presidents and nominees speaking to the group, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton speaking in 2016, Clinton taking part in 2015, and Obama giving a CHCI address in 2014.

Clinton, and Obama before her, spoke before crucial elections when immigration was a top issue for Latinos. This year is different, however, with another polarizing issue rising to the forefront of the midterm cycle, after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, taking away federal abortion protections. But Biden chose to highlight immigration.

biden chci
US President Joe Biden attends the 45th Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala to celebrate the start of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. onSeptember 15, 2022. MANDEL NGAN/AF/Getty Images

He criticized Republican governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida for conducting high-profile busing of migrants from the southern border to cities and communities in the North considered liberal enclaves, including New York and Washington D.C., as well as Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts on Thursday.

The governors have particularly targeted communities on the "sanctuary cities" list, which discourage "local law enforcement from reporting the immigration status of individuals unless it involves investigation of a serious crime," as noted by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

"Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props," Biden said, taking turns reading from a teleprompter and grabbing the microphone to pace the stage.

He said his administration is dedicated to maintaining an immigration policy that is safe, orderly and humane.

"We have a process in place to manage migrants at the border," Biden said. "Republican officials should not interfere with that process by waging these political stunts."

He ran down a laundry list of issues and policies his administration has backed that he said have improved the lives of Latinos in the United States, including the American Rescue Plan, passed during the height of the pandemic, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the Student Loan Relief Act, and making "Puerto Rico's recovery a top priority."

Referring to the infrastructure bill, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, as a "once in a generation infrastructure law," Biden said it would help accomplish things like replacing "poisonous lead pipes" for Hispanic communities that are most affected, because they should be able to "turn on the faucet and drink clean water, for God's sake."

At the yearly black-tie affair that is affectionately called "The Latino Prom," with a who's who of Hispanics in government and politics in attendance, Biden argued that the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act included the "most aggressive action" to combat the climate crisis.

In the past, Obama and Clinton used the speech as something of a check-in on the state of the Latino community, while also defending themselves from attacks, even from the left.

In 2014, an embattled Obama, who had angered immigration activists by delaying executive actions to protect immigrants from deportation, called on Latinos to vote in the election that fall and to support post-election policy efforts. Clinton's speech before she faced Donald Trump in 2016 echoed Obama's 2014 CHCI address, and also came before a crucial election when immigration was front and center. She called on young Latinos to turn out, saying "we need you," just months before she lost to Trump.

In a notable difference from past years, there were no protestors at the gala as there were when Clinton spoke in 2015. Then, as she presented an award to celebrity chef Jose Andres, famous for his humanitarian work, activists tried to talk over her, accusing her of accepting donations from private prison companies.

Biden addressed gun violence and mass shootings, invoking the killing of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas this year, a grade school with 600 mostly Hispanic students. He shared the story of spending four hours with families of the victims, and quoted from a handwritten note he received from a family member who wrote that it was critical to "erase the invisible line that's dividing this nation."

"I know it's been a hard few years," Biden said in closing. "We just have to remember who we are — we are the United States of America."