By Steve Holland
WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. (Reuters) -Democratic President Joe Biden on Monday assailed "MAGA Republicans" loyal to former President Donald Trump as he spent Labor Day working to ensure union workers provide strong turnout for Democratic candidates in the November elections.
"We have a choice," Biden told a union crowd in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. "Trump and the MAGA Republicans made their choice. We can work to have a better America or we can continue down this sliding path to oblivion where we don't want to go."
Speaking earlier to hundreds of union leaders and advocates under a bright sun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the U.S. holiday designated to celebrate the achievements of American workers, Biden said he was not smearing all Republicans. But he slammed those who would defend the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Last week in Philadelphia, Biden blasted Republicans devoted to Trump's Make America Great Again (MAGA) agenda as a threat to U.S. democracy and willing to overturn democratic elections. Republicans fired back that Biden had campaigned as a unifier in 2020, but was now turning his back on large segments of the American public who voted Republican.
"Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican, not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology. But the extreme MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division," Biden said in Milwaukee.
"There's no democracy where you can be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy," he said in a reference to the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
When a heckler erupted, Biden said to leave the protester alone. "Everybody is entitled to be an idiot," he said. Democrats and mainstream Republicans need to battle against the ideas of the MAGA Republicans, he continued.
"Democracy is at stake," he said.
Aides say the president is increasingly concerned about anti-democratic trends in the Republican Party, and sees a need to jump into this year's Congressional elections fight and recast the stakes of his own 2024 re-election bid.
Biden is trying to bolster union support for Democrats ahead of the November midterm Congressional elections, with Democrats' control of Congress hanging in the balance.
While union members have traditionally supported Democratic candidates, Trump eroded that support as struggling working-class Americans defected to the Republican party. In addition, support by moderate Republicans of some Democratic candidates could be critical to Democrats' chances of securing some seats in both the House and the Senate.
Republicans have been hammering at the high inflation rate plaguing the U.S. economy ahead of the Nov. 8 elections, claiming that Biden and his policies are responsible.
Monday's stops give Biden a chance to hone his message on organized labor and urge workers to stay loyal to the Democratic Party in two states with critical midterm races.
In Wisconsin, Democrats hope to re-elect Democratic Governor Tony Evers and help the state's Democratic lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, oust Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats are optimistic that the party's candidate for the U.S. Senate, John Fetterman, will defeat the Republican television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. Fetterman appeared at the event with Biden in West Mifflin.
Republicans are favored to win control of the House of Representatives in November and perhaps even the Senate.
The opposition party usually gains seats in the first elections after a new president takes over. But Biden and his team are 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.
Some political pundits see a path for Democrats to hang on to both houses of Congress. Biden, whose own approval rating fell to 38% last week in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, in recent weeks has intensified his attack on Trump and his far-right loyalists to try to drive up strong Democratic turnout and appeal to mainstream Republicans.
"We'll win if people vote," Biden said in West Mifflin.
Unions have been increasing in popularity in recent years. A Gallup poll released last week found that 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions, the highest Gallup has recorded on this measure since 1965.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Andrea Ricci and Leslie Adler)