By Steve Holland
ROCKVILLE, Md. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden had harsh words to describe Trump-allied Republicans on Thursday, as he held his first political rally in the run-up to November elections, accusing the group of embracing violence and hatred, and saying they edged toward "semi-fascism" at an earlier fund-raising stop.
Biden, kicking off a coast-to-coast tour, is looking to lend his support to Democratic candidates and prevent those Republicans from taking control of Congress by touting the sharp differences between the two major U.S. parties, and calling on independent and Republican voters for help.
“It’s not hyperbole now you need to vote to literally save democracy again,” Biden told an above-capacity crowd of several thousand at a Democratic National Committee event at Richard Montgomery High School in a Maryland suburb of Washington.
"America must choose. You must choose. Whether our country will move forward or backward,” he said.
“Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice – to go backwards full of anger, violence, hate and division,” he said, warning they "refuse to accept the will of the people."
Since the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol, some Donald Trump supporters have repeated his lie that the 2020 election was stolen and threatened election workers.
In Maryland's Montgomery County, where more than 78% of voters chose Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020, Biden the stage to ask "Democrats, independents and mainstream Republicans" to join together to commit to the future.
Before the rally, Biden met Democratic donors for a $1 million party fundraiser in a backyard in a leafy neighborhood north of Washington.
Strolling with a handheld mic, Biden detailed the tumult facing the United States and the world from climate change. He spoke about economic upheaval and the future of China and was strongly critical of the direction of the Republican Party.
"We're seeing now either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA agenda," Biden said, referring to former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. "It's not just Trump. ... It's almost semi-fascism," he said.
BIDEN AGENDA ON THE LINE
Republicans are hoping to ride voter discontent with inflation, questions about Biden's policies and cultural resentment from its majority-white base to victory in November, and they have history on their side. The party that controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress in a new president's first midterm elections, and political analysts predict Republicans have a solid chance of taking control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.
Democrats hold only a thin majority in the House, while the Senate is evenly divided, with the vice president's tie-breaking power giving Democrats control.
Republican control of one or both chambers could thwart Biden's legislative agenda for the second half of his four-year term. Heavy losses could also intensify questions about whether Biden should run for re-election in 2024 or hand over to a younger generation.
But Biden and his team are increasingly hopeful that a string of recent legislative successes, and voters' outrage at the Supreme Court's overturning of the 1973 ruling that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion, will generate strong turnout among Democrats.
The announcement this week that Biden would use an executive order to alleviate student loan debt led to GOP legislators and activists to criticize it as a handout. But on Thursday, the White House noted on Twitter that each had benefited from much larger debt cancellations under the coronavirus pandemic “PPP” loan program.
The rally in Maryland was promoted by groups including women's health provider Planned Parenthood and anti-gun violence activists Moms Demand, as Democrats lean on a new gun safety law and Republican-backed abortion bans to improve their midterm prospects.
Democrats want Biden's trip to boost the president's poor poll numbers and draw attention to his achievements. But some candidates for Congress worry that campaigning with Biden will hurt them in the Nov. 8 election.
Biden, whose latest approval rating is 41%, is polling lower than most, if not all, Democratic candidates in competitive races, often by double digits, Democratic pollsters said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler, Rosalba O'Brien and Gerry Doyle)