Biden returns to Scranton roots to pitch plan for higher taxes on the rich

Biden Pennsylvania
Joe Biden, former Vice President, makes a visit to his childhood home in Scranton Pa., Oct. 23, 2019.
Jason Farmer/The Times-Tribune via AP, File

By CHRIS MEGERIAN Associated Press

President Joe Biden returned to his childhood hometown of Scranton on Tuesday to open three straight days of campaigning in Pennsylvania, capitalizing on the opportunity to work the battleground state while Donald Trump spends the week in a New York City courtroom for his first criminal trial.

The president plans to use the working class city of roughly 75,000 people, as the backdrop for his pitch for higher taxes on the rich. At the same time, he’s seeking to portray Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee and a billionaire, as a tool of wealthy interests.

Biden’s motorcade briefly drove on an expressway named in his honor. The president was to give a speech at a community center and participate in a training session for grassroots organizers at a union hall, according to his campaign. He’ll also swing 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.

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.

Biden plans to spend Tuesday night in Scranton before continuing to Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning. 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.

Scranton, the president’s first destination, blends the personal and the political for Biden. He grew up in a three-story colonial home in the 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 launching pad 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 visited 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 includes interviews with his cousin, a grade school classmate and a county commissioner, among others making the case that Biden backs the middle class and has policies for the country’s future.

“You’ve got Joe Biden, who sees the world from the kitchen table where he grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Donald Trump, who sees the world from his country club down in Mar-a-Lago,” said campaign spokesman Michael Tyler.

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 populist allure.

When Trump was president, he 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 travels in Pennsylvania overlap 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-ever criminal trial of a former president.

Biden campaign officials said they weren’t worried about the trial.

“No matter where Donald Trump is, whether it’s in Mar-a-Lago or a courtroom or anywhere else, he’ll be focused on himself, his toxic agenda, his campaign of revenge and retribution,” Tyler said. “That’s going to be a continuation of the contrast the American people have been able to see since this campaign began.”

Sam DeMarco, chair of the Republican Party in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, said Democrats’ message is that “the economy is good, we’re just not smart enough to realize it.”

However, DeMarco 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.”

Trump was last in Pennsylvania on Saturday night in Schnecksville, where he described Biden as a “demented tyrant” and blamed him for all of the country’s problems, in addition to his own legal woes.

“All of America knows that the real blame for this nightmare lies with one person, Crooked Joe Biden,” Trump said.

He attacked Biden’s tax plans, falsely claiming that “they’re going to raise your taxes by four times.”

Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Will Weissert contributed to this report from Washington.