At an invite-only fundraiser in Park City Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden said democracy and our institutions are “at stake” in the upcoming presidential election.

“In a participating democracy, if we can’t bring people together, we’re done,” the president said. “We are falling into warring camps.”

Hours after delivering a speech in Salt Lake City to veterans, Biden spoke at the fundraiser about a potential 2024 rematch with former President Donald Trump and China’s growing threat to the U.S.

The fundraiser was held at the Snyderville Basin home of Nancy and Mark Gilbert, former U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Entrance cost several thousand dollars. The Gilberts hosted Michelle Obama at their home for a fundraiser in 2012.

Trump played a central role in Biden’s fundraising speech. The president rhetorically asked the audience to think of a single global leader “who says they want to see Trump back.” Biden attributed much of America’s declining civility to the former president, noting that his motorcade will sometimes pass large Trump signs with vulgarity written on them with children in the vicinity. “How far we’ve come,” Biden said.

Trump maintains a dominant lead in national polls of the Republican primary, making a rematch with Biden possible. A recent New York Times poll showed Biden and Trump tied at 43% each in a hypothetical 2024 match-up.

On China, Biden said the country is a “ticking time bomb” and warned that domestic issues there — including an aging workforce and high unemployment — could lead its leaders to make poor decisions. “I don’t want to hurt China, but I’m watching,” he said.

Biden’s visit to Utah garnered national attention Wednesday morning when a man was shot dead in Provo after making violent threats against the president and allegedly engaging in an armed altercation with FBI agents. The FBI had been monitoring the man’s Facebook page for weeks, where he had repeatedly threatened violence against Biden during his visit to Utah.

Biden has made no public comment on the incident, though a White House official confirmed the president was briefed on the matter Wednesday morning.

‘He has a gun!’ An eyewitness details what happened when the FBI came to a Provo neighborhood
Man killed by FBI who made social media threats toward Biden was older, had limited mobility, neighbors say
A motorcade escorts President Joe Biden on Foothill Drive in Salt Lake City, traveling from the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center to Park City, on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“Sacred obligation” to help veterans

Biden traveled to the fundraiser from the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Police officers cleared Foothill Drive of traffic to allow the motorcade to travel through Parley’s Canyon to Park City. As the motorcade passed, onlookers waved flags and gave thumbs up, thumbs down or, in some cases, made obscene gestures.

In his morning speech at the Wahlen VA center, Biden spoke about the nation’s responsibility to help veterans, saying there is a “truly sacred obligation” to care for U.S. veterans and their families.

Biden’s visit to Utah is the first by a sitting U.S. president since Donald Trump in 2017, when he announced reductions to national monuments in southeastern Utah. Prior to arriving in Utah, Biden visited Arizona on Tuesday, where he announced a new national monument near Grand Canyon National Park.

Biden approved an emergency declaration due to the ongoing wildfires in Hawaii Thursday morning, and he told his Salt Lake City audience that his administration is dedicated to offering whatever assistance is needed.

“Not just our prayers,” he said. “Every asset we have will be available to them. It’s not over yet.”

Biden’s speech celebrated the PACT Act, a piece of legislation the White House has touted as the “most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years.” The speech was attended by veterans, local elected officials and other invited guests.

“Folks, we have a moral obligation. This goes beyond the financial. We have a moral obligation to respond (to these veterans),” Biden said.

Biden blames Trump for incivility, says democracy ‘at stake’ in 2024

The PACT Act offers health care benefits to veterans exposed by toxic fumes emitted by burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Burn pits, Biden explained, are large areas — 100 yards long, 30 yards wide, and eight to 10 feet deep — that the military has used as a place to dispose of materials. Tires, chemical waste or other materials were set on fire, and the military personnel who breathed in the air faced medical consequences.

Erica Smith, a veteran of the U.S. Army diagnosed with cancer after her service, speaks prior to President Joe Biden at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Biden speaks about son Beau

Biden spoke about his son Beau Biden, a veteran of the Iraq War who died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46. Biden has said previously that he believes the death of his son may have been linked to burn pits.

“My son was about 400 yards from one of those burn pits, living there for a year,” Biden said.

Beau “went from the fittest guy in his unit, and he came home and died of glioblastoma,” Biden said.

He noted that many of the firefighters who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City were diagnosed with cancer or other medical conditions. This event made many people aware of the danger of the burn pits the military employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, until the practice was discontinued in 2010.

Biden was introduced by Erica Smith, a veteran of the U.S. Army diagnosed with cancer after her service. “I’m so grateful for the PACT Act, and I encourage other veterans to take advantage of its benefits,” she said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall was the event’s opening speaker. She mentioned that her father was a veteran in the Korean War.

“To our veterans, thank you to your service. Thank you for your sacrifice,” she said. “And to President Biden, thank you for finally helping this country to address the needs of our veterans, who suffered and died from exposure.”

Cox: Questions on whether to welcome Biden “insane”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also spoke before the president. “Any time we are given the opportunity to welcome a president of either party to our state, we welcome the opportunity.” He noted that there was some question whether he, a Republican, would do so.

“I think it’s insane we are having those conversations,” Cox said, to applause from the audience.

President Joe Biden takes a photo with Emma Kate Cox, Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox after speaking at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Cox is the new chair of the National Governors Association, and his platform is “Disagree Better.” None of the six members of Utah’s congressional delegation, all Republicans, attended Biden’s speech.

“Governor Spencer Cox, thank you for your hospitality, but much more importantly, thank you for taking care of our veterans,” Biden said.

A gymnasium in the Wahlin VA medical complex was converted to an auditorium for the occasion. The room was surrounded with blue curtains, hiding the room’s brick walls and a large Utah Jazz logo on one end.

Biden spoke at a lecturn emblazoned with the presidential seal, the flags of Utah, the U.S., and the armed forces branches behind him. On either side of the stage were several American flags.

Prior to the event, as the room filled, dignitaries and invited guests mingled and took pictures together. Jazz music played over the speakers.

View Comments

When he spoke, Biden became visibly emotional when mentioning the effect military service has on veterans. It is a message he has repeated, including during this year’s State of the Union address and upon signing the bill last summer.

“When (our troops) came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same,” Biden said during the bill signing ceremony last August. “Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them.”

“I was going to get this done, come hell or high water,” he continued.

But the bill faced a steep fight in the Senate, where Republicans blocked it because of its costs and over fears it would exacerbate the already-skyrocketing national deficit. The Congressional Budget Office projected it would add $278 billion to the deficit over the next decade. After a week of bipartisan negotiations, 11 Republican senators voted against it, including Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney.

Why did Mitt Romney, Mike Lee vote against veterans health care bill?
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.