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Biden visits Scranton hometown to call for more taxes on the rich and cast Trump as elitist

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event Tuesday in Scranton. Biden has begun three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania in his childhood hometown of Scranton. The Democratic president is using the working class city of roughly 75,000 as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the wealthy. Associated Press

SCRANTON — President Joe Biden returned to his working-class childhood hometown of Scranton on Tuesday to call for higher taxes on the rich and cast Donald Trump as an out-of-touch elitist, part of an attempt to blunt the populist appeal of his predecessor’s comeback bid.

Biden’s stop opened three straight days of campaigning in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania while his opponent spends much of the week in a New York City courtroom for his first criminal trial.

Biden used Scranton, a city of roughly 75,000 people, as the backdrop to argue that getting rich in America is fine, but should come with heftier tax bills. He dismissed Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee and a billionaire, as a tool of wealthy interests.

It’s all aimed at reframing the conversation around the economy, which has left many Americans feeling sour about their financial situations at a time of stubborn inflation and elevated interest rates despite low unemployment.

“When I look at the economy, I don’t look at it through the eyes of Mar-a-Lago. I look at it through the eyes of Scranton,” the president said, contrasting his modest upbringing with the Florida estate where the former president now lives.

Biden has proposed a 25% percent minimum tax rate for billionaires, which he said would swell federal coffers by hundreds of billions of dollars. He added that such levies are “how we invest in the country.”

“Scranton values or Mar-a-Lago values,” Biden said. “These are the competing visions for our economy that raise questions of fundamental fairness at the heart of this campaign.” He spoke at a community center from a stage flanked by a banner reading “Tax Fairness for All Americans.”

The president said decades of GOP policies that cut taxes for the wealthy with the idea of stimulating the economy “failed America, and Donald Trump embodies that failure.” He detailed his own working class upbringing while scoffing that Trump’s background taught him little more than “the best way to get rich is to inherit it.” Along the way, Biden worked in jokes about the sharp fall in market value of the former president's social media platform.

Biden was taking part in a training session for grassroots organizers at a union hall before swinging by his old house, which has served as a touchstone for him through the years, according to a person familiar with the plans who declined to be identified ahead of Biden’s arrival.

“Joe Biden has never forgotten where he’s from,” Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti said before Biden’s speech. Gov. Josh Shapiro echoed the idea, saying, “This is a guy who has never forgotten the people he grew up with.”

“They’re the people on his mind, and they’re the people in his heart,” Shapiro said, adding that Biden administration polices are “putting money back in your pocket every day.”

The president was spending Tuesday night in Scranton before continuing to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He then goes back to the White House, only to return to Pennsylvania on Thursday, this time visiting Philadelphia.

By the time the week is over, Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris will have visited the state eight times this year, reflecting its importance to Biden’s hopes for a second term.

“It’s hard to draw paths to Biden winning the White House that don't involve Pennsylvania,” said Daniel Hopkins, a political-science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. No Democrat has become president without winning the state since Harry Truman in 1948.

Biden grew up in a three-story colonial home in Scranton’s Green Ridge neighborhood until his father struggled to find work and moved the family to Delaware when the future president was 10.

Although Delaware eventually became the launchpad for Biden's political career, he often returned to Scranton, including visiting his childhood home on Election Day 2020. Biden grounded his autobiography in the city and has returned so often, he was sometimes called “Pennsylvania’s third senator.”

In 2020, Biden described the presidential campaign as “Scranton versus Park Avenue.” His reelection team is framing this year's race in a similar way, releasing a video that calls for promoting the middle class and features interviews with his cousin, a grade school classmate and a county commissioner.

Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, described Scranton as a “mythical place in political culture,” and it will provide a test for Biden’s political appeal.

“It’s an area that, on paper, aligns perfectly with the populist gains of the Republican Party during the Trump era,” Borick said.

However, Biden won the city and the surrounding county in 2020. If Biden is able to carry Scranton and similar places again this year, as well as limit Trump's winning margins in rural areas, he may be able to secure another victory in Pennsylvania.

“Everything is on the margin. Everything that we talk about are small shifts,” Borick said.

Biden's pitch on taxes is a key part of his effort to blunt Trump's us-versus-them arguments.

As president, Trump signed into law in 2017 a series of tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the rich. Many of the cuts expire at the end of 2025, and Biden wants to keep a majority of them to fulfill his promise that no one earning less than $400,000 will pay more taxes.

However, he also wants to raise $4.9 trillion in revenue over 10 years with higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations. His platform includes a “billionaire’s tax,” which would set a minimum rate of 25% on the income of the richest Americans.

Biden’s Pennsylvania swing overlaps with the start of Trump’s first criminal trial, presenting an opportunity and a challenge for the president's campaign.

Trump is defending himself against criminal charges for a scheme to suppress allegations of affairs with a porn actor and a Playboy model. Biden’s team has quietly embraced the contrast of the former president sequestered in a courtroom while the current president has free rein to focus on economic issues that are top of mind for voters.

However, the juxtaposition becomes less helpful if Trump soaks up the country’s attention during the first criminal trial of a former president. Biden didn’t mention Trump’s legal problems but told Tuesday's crowd, “money doesn’t determine your worth.”

Sam DeMarco, chair of the Republican Party in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, said “across the board, it costs more to live today than it did when Joe Biden came to office.”

“These are the things that families feel,” he said. “And a scripted appearance by the president is not going to change that.”

Biden, though, suggested Scranton was more personal for him than political.

As the crowd chanted, “Four More Years” before his speech began, the president smiled and joked, “I think I should go home now. Except I am already home.”

President Joe Biden's motorcade travels to a campaign event after arriving at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport on Tuesday in Scranton. Associated Press

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