President asks: “Do you want to put your Social Security in the hands of Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene?”

Gun Rights

WASHINGTON — Back on the campaign trail and touting a series of victories, President Joe Biden took aim at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and a couple of Texas Democrats, albeit less directly, as he called for protecting social security and banning assault weapons at a rally on Thursday night.

“Do you want to put your social security in the hands of Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene?” Biden said, warning Republicans want Congress to vote on the program every five years.

Cruz fired back on Twitter: “Wow, Joe almost got a full sentence out there.”

“#Bidenflation is bankrupting seniors & Joe is bankrupting the country, so he tries to fear monger instead,” Cruz tweeted. “Nobody wants to cut Social Security — he know it’s a lie — but here’s the good news: Midterms are coming.”

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The Cruz line drew some of the loudest response of any delivered by the fired-up president in a roughly half-hour speech at a Democratic National Committee rally in Maryland.

Boasting a rebounding approval rating after a year of steady shelling from the GOP, Biden ticked off a list of accomplishments — some achieved with the help of Texas Republicans — as he previewed the party’s likely pitch to voters in November.

Among those accomplishments was the bipartisan gun bill drafted in part by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. The legislation was the first tightening of federal gun laws since 1994.

It requires greater scrutiny of gun buyers under 21 years old and restricts access to firearms for dating partners convicted of domestic abuse. The bill also creates stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and “straw” purchasing, in which someone buys a firearm for someone prohibited from owning one. It also includes funding for mental health and school safety measures.

“We took on the NRA, and we beat them,” Biden said before vowing to ban assault-style weapons for families in cities hit by mass shootings, including Uvalde and El Paso.

The president then appeared to throw a couple of potentially vulnerable South Texas Democrats under the bus for voting against an assault weapon ban in the House last month.

“This November, we have to ask every candidate: Are you for banning assault weapons or not? And if you’re not, we’re not going to vote for you. Period,” Biden said.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen were two of five Democrats who opposed the ban as it narrowly passed the House on a 217-213 vote. Both are seen as potentially vulnerable as they run in districts that Republicans have targeted to flip after making gains in South Texas in 2020.

Their offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Gonzalez at the time of the vote said that he “strongly supports” expanded background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“But there are tens of millions of assault rifles already in circulation across America, many of them are used by responsible gun owners for hunting in South Texas,” he said. “And a ban on some of those models will do nothing to reduce overall risks.”

The speech marked something of a new tone from the president, who has seen dismal approval ratings and steady criticism from Republicans over inflation, gas prices, an unprecedented surge in migration at the southern border and more.

Biden spent much of his speech contrasting Democrats with what he deemed “extreme MAGA Republicans,” who he said “have made their choice to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division.”

“It’s not just Trump,” Biden said. “It’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something: It’s like semi-fascism.”

He focused much of his criticism on GOP-passed abortion bans, such as the one that took effect in Texas this week.

“How extreme are these MAGA Republicans?” Biden said. “Just take a look at what happened since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

ben.wermund@chron.com

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