White House official visits Morehouse ahead of Biden speech

White House official visits Morehouse ahead of Biden speech

A senior White House official met with students and faculty at Morehouse College ahead of the commencement speech President Biden is set to give there this weekend — and amid reported concerns about the campus visit.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed on Tuesday that Steve Benjamin, head of the administration’s Office of Public Engagement, had a recent meeting at the historically Black college in Atlanta.

“I won’t get into the specifics, but he regularly does this. He regularly goes on the road, hears directly from Americans, and hears directly, in this instance, [it] would be students and faculty, obviously,” Jean-Pierre said of Benjamin’s visit.

NBC News reported on Monday that students during the meeting shared concerns that the president’s appearance could overshadow the graduation event amid controversy around Biden’s position on the Israel-Hamas war  — and that the president’s address could sound like a campaign speech.

According to the outlet, the Friday meeting ran overtime, lasting nearly two hours. The matter has also reportedly sparked worries among faculty.

The pushback comes as Biden faces widespread protests on college campuses over his administration’s handling of the Gaza conflict, and polling that suggests the incumbent is losing ground among young voters and Black and Hispanic voters.

The president has stressed his support for peaceful protests and demonstrations — but has offered criticism of the campus protests.

“In America, we respect and protect the fundamental right to free speech, to debate, disagree, to protest peacefully and make our voices heard. I understand; that’s America,” Biden said earlier this month. “But there is no place on any campus in America, no place in America, for antisemitism, hate speech, or threats of violence of any kind.”

Biden is “certainly looking forward” to the May 19 commencement address, Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday.

“He’s looking forward to speaking not just to the students, but obviously families and loved ones who were here who will be there to hear, to celebrate the students but also to hear from, to hear a message from this president,” the press secretary said.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), a notable Morehouse alum, has said he’s “proud” the president is set to speak to the college.

A week after the scheduled Morehouse speech, Biden is set to deliver remarks at the U.S. Military Academy’s May 25 commencement ceremony.

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