Joe Biden, his voice raised, raged at the gun lobby, congressional Republicans and President Trump as he spoke about the deadly school shooting that took place hours earlier Thursday in Santa Clarita.
“You parents and grandparents, you send off children — 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old — and the first thing they learn is how to duck and cover,” the former vice president said.
“We’re now making sure that we provide children the ability to avoid being shot in school,” he said, referring to campuses being designed with hiding places. “What does that say about our soul? ... I’m so tired about people talking about your prayers. Damn it, we have to protect these kids. We have to do it now.”
Biden started his afternoon speech in downtown Los Angeles with anger over the shooting at Saugus High School, about 40 miles northwest of the downtown campaign gathering. Two students were killed in the attack and three others were injured. The shooter, who turned 16 on Thursday, was also wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, authorities said.
Biden, a former longtime senator from Delaware, said he had previously taken on the gun lobby successfully, adding that his legislative accomplishments set him apart from the other 2020 candidates. “I’m the only one running who’s ever passed anything really big,” he said.
The rally at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College was Biden’s first in California since he joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in April.
He previously made eight fundraising trips to California since entering the race in late April, visiting at least once a month. He has headlined 21 fundraisers in the state, raising money at the homes of Hollywood executives, Silicon Valley tech leaders and other affluent Democrats. Since joining the race, Biden has raised at least $4.7 million from Californians, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures in October of donors who have contributed at least $200.
After the rally Thursday, Biden headlined two fundraisers, in Pacific Palisades and West L.A.
Biden skipped two major Democratic gatherings in the state this year and is not attending a state party convention on Saturday that is drawing nearly a dozen of his rivals and 5,000 voters. His decision not to participate in these events is drawing the ire of some Democrats in the state, which moved its presidential primary up to March 3 in hopes of getting more political attention.
State party Chairman Rusty Hicks criticized Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren for not attending Saturday’s convention. “I respect your work/candidacy, BUT... you should reconsider your misguided decision to publicly snub California’s Democrats & Latino Voters across the nation,” he wrote on Facebook.
Some observers have questioned whether Biden was avoiding appearing in front of the group because its members are among the most liberal in the state — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former Gov. Jerry Brown have both been booed at party conventions. And the top 2020 candidates are taking part in a Univision forum whose moderators include a journalist who has been sharply critical of the immigration policy under former President Obama and Biden.
Pete Kavanaugh, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said the candidate is not avoiding California voters.
“It’s just a question of how we’re able to spend our time. He has spent a lot of time in the first four states, and obviously he got into race later and was trying to catch up,” he said. “It hasn’t been an avoidance; it’s simply a matter of trying to find hours in the schedule and trying to find days and weeks that work.”
During Biden’s visits to the state, he has dropped by a few local businesses, such as visiting King Taco with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. And he has done a few interviews and participated in campaign forums hosted by UniodosUS, Service Employees International Union and the Human Rights Campaign.
Some of his rivals in the Democratic race, such as Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have also spent the bulk of their time in California fundraising. But they have had more public events. Warren, who is not holding fundraisers, has held four large rallies in addition to attending other Democratic forums and events.
Monday marked the first time any voter could see Biden if they wanted to. Speaking on a sun-dappled corner of the quad, Biden told supporters that he was spurred to run for president by Trump’s remarks about protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Violence at the rally left a counterprotester dead, yet Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
“Look, there’s so much at stake in this election. We can in fact possibly and I think we will, we can handle four years of Donald Trump. It’s going to be a whole God-awful lot of work to put this country back together again, both nationally and internationally, domestically and foreign,” Biden said. “But eight years of Donald Trump will change the very character of who we are as a nation, and we cannot let that happen.”
He spoke of the dignity of work and the decline of the middle class, and he outlined his proposals to provide citizenship to immigrants in the country illegally, to increase funding for the poorest schools and provide free community college to all who want it.
Biden also spoke about the need for the next president to bring the nation back together, a message that resonated with Kimberly Daniels, 50.
“We should be able to come together as one and not constantly fight against each other,” she said, adding that she had admired Biden since his time as Obama’s vice president.
Drew Krinsky, a junior at USC, said Democrats need to nominate a moderate like Biden or Buttigieg to have the best chance of beating Trump. The 21-year-old came away from Biden’s rally impressed.
“Joe did a fantastic job showing that now we need leadership, and that it’s going to take a while to recover from all the stuff that Trump’s done,” said the public policy and law major. “We need someone who knows what he’s doing. Joe was a vice president; he knows how this works. He’s got years of experience.”