Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden will address the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College. Protests are expected


President Biden is on the road this weekend, visiting two battleground states with a focus on two key constituencies. This morning, he delivered the commencement address at a historically Black college in Georgia.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's my commitment to you - to show you democracy, democracy, democracy is still the way.

KEITH: And tonight, he'll keynote an NAACP dinner in Michigan. Both events come as Biden faces a potential drop in support from young voters and Black voters in November. NPR's Stephen Fowler is at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Thanks for joining us.


KEITH: So President Biden's commencement address this morning was his first time on a campus during this time when many colleges and universities have had protests over the war in Gaza. How was he received?

FOWLER: Well, it was largely greeted with a type of sleepy, silent boredom, befitting a generic graduation and not the president of the United States. That said, there were some applause lines when he talked about some of his things that he accomplished, like, more funding for historically Black colleges and voting rights. And there was a little bit of protest. I mean, Morehouse has seen student protests over Biden's handling of the Middle East, but nothing that saw police violence or people taking over campus spaces. There were people outside of commencement, but the half-an-hour address inside only saw a smattering of people who turned their backs against the president. Many people didn't stand up or down when he entered and exited, and a faculty member silently stood with a fist held high. Of note, Morehouse valedictorian D'Angelo Fletcher used the close of his address to address global conflict.


DANGELO FLETCHER: We've heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture. It is my stance as a Morehouse man - nay, as a human being - to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.


KEITH: So how does the Biden campaign see events like this commencement fitting into their case to these voters who they've had trouble with to give him a second term?

FOWLER: Well, the past week, Biden's schedule has been jam-packed with events that highlight what the campaign says is, quote, "authentic and consistent outreach with Black voters across the country." There's meetings with plaintiffs in the historic school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. There's meetings with the members of the Divine Nine Black Greek letter organizations and stops at Black-owned small businesses in Georgia and Michigan. Biden's view of this address is summed up by this metaphor he painted at the beginning of his speech.


BIDEN: Remember Jesus was buried on Friday. And it was Sunday - on Sunday, he rose again. But we don't talk about Saturdays.

FOWLER: In his view, Saturday is the time when things are hard, when there's pain, when there's all these things going on that drive people to purpose. And so in his view, the months leading up to this election, and his current poll numbers are like that Saturday, and there's not a lot of trust in the Democratic process or the Democratic Party. But he's imploring his supporters to keep the faith until the metaphorical Sunday comes.

KEITH: There's a long time before the election in November, but Biden is struggling with these voters, young voters, Black voters in the polls, especially in swing states like Georgia. What sort of shift in support could make a difference one way or another?

FOWLER: Tam, it doesn't take much of a shift to be decisive between narrow margins in swing states, third-party groups and campaigns that court young voters and non-white voters and an expected lower turnout than the 2020 election. Polling for now shows a fall-off for Biden, but not necessarily an equal shift towards Donald Trump. There's also signs that some of the displeasure with Biden is more among people who aren't as likely to vote in November. I talked with plenty of people this morning who said that they wouldn't vote for Biden but wouldn't offer an alternative they'd vote for either. But then there's plenty of proud parents like Tiffany Johnson. She got here at 4:30 this morning to see her son graduate. She was also excited to see the president. Now, the Biden campaign isn't taking things for granted, even though some of his best performing areas in the primary so far have been areas with a large share of Black voters. He's opening up more campaign offices in places like Georgia and Michigan. The campaign's constantly highlighting the efforts and things that he's done, sending out Vice President Kamala Harris, and he'll be speaking in Michigan at a huge NAACP dinner later tonight.

KEITH: Thank you, Stephen Fowler. NPR's Stephen Fowler at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

FOWLER: Thank you. 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.
Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.
Related Stories