Attendees at the annual Human Rights Campaign national dinner Saturday night urged Joseph Biden to challenge President Trump in 2020 amid speculation the former vice president is mulling a run for the White House.
As Biden approached the podium at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, he was greeted with calls of “Run, Joe, Run!” and “2020!” In response, Biden didn’t convey any thoughts about the upcoming presidential election, but thanked the audience and proceeded with his remarks.
During his speech to the estimated 3,500 attendees at the dinner, Biden expressed regret over not speaking out sooner against President Trump after leaving the White House at the end of the Obama administration.
“Barack and I agreed we would be quiet for the first year to let the new administration get up and running,” Biden said.
Making the sign of the cross over chest, Biden added, “God forgive me.”
After the white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Va., Biden said he felt compelled to brake his vow of silence because he “could not remain silent.”
“This is about basic decency,” Biden said. “The idea that goons could come out of fields at night with lighted torches, carrying Nazi flags, chanting the same, exact anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in the streets of Nuremberg and Berlin and every other German city in the 30s.”
After tamping down boos from the audience, Biden laid into Trump for his responding there were “good people” on both sides.
“We are in fight for a America’s soul and we have leaders…who at the time when that occurred, when these guys were accompanied by white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan and those who objected, making a comparison, saying, ‘There are good people in both groups,'” Biden said. “What has become of us? Our children are listening and our silence is complicity.”
Accompanying Biden on stage was his spouse, former second lady Jill Biden, who was also critical of Trump. In a veiled criticism of the current president, Jill Biden said, “I hate bullies.”
“There is nothing that makes either of us more angry than a bully,” Jill Biden said.
Echoing his spouse later in the evening, Joseph Biden said, “The president uses the White House a a literal bully pulpit.”
Consistent with his other speeches to LGBT audiences, Biden commended the LGBT rights movement for its accomplishment and repeated his characterization of LGBT rights as the “civil rights issue of our day.”
Biden decried anti-transgender legislation in state legislatures and the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. On the international front, Biden spoke out against violence against LGBT people around the world in places like Chechnya, El Salvador, Malaysia and Tanzania as well as attempts to undermine LGBT rights in Romania.
“Any person of conscience regardless of their religious or partisan beliefs should be able to agree that discrimination and violence against any person in any form is simply intolerable, illegal, wrong,” Biden said.
Biden wasn’t the only 2020 prospect who spoke at the dinner. Also addressing attendees was former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who now chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group that seeks to elect Democratic candidates ahead of the 2020 Census.
Holder recalled the LGBT accomplishments of the Obama administration, including the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court and assessing legal spousal benefits to same-sex couples after the 2013 ruling against the anti-gay law.
“And yet, our work is far from over,” Holder said. “The unfortunate fact is that in 2018, America’s long struggle to overcome injustice, to eliminate disparities and to eradicate violence continues. The age of bullies and bigots is not fully behind us and much of the progress that we made together now hangs in the balance.”
Holder said the gains made by gay and lesbian Americans aren’t yet “solidified” and those achievement aren’t yet extended to transgender people — something the Trump administration has made more complicated.
“There are still hearts to open, there are laws to change and the need for leaders to reflect or even seem to grasp our nation’s core values,” Holder said. “Instead of trying to build consensus toward our common goals, they try to build walls and stoke fear and anger among voters for short-term political advantage.”
Also speaking at the dinner was Virginia State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first openly transgender elected and seated to a state legislature, and Nelson Araujo, who’s running to become secretary of state in Nevada and could be the first openly gay person elected to statewide office in the United States.
The night also featured performances by transgender activist and artist Shea Diamond and Ocean’s Eight co-star Awkwafina. The recipient of the HRC National Equality Award was actress Anne Hathaway.