PARIS — President Biden arrives in France on Wednesday to join world leaders in commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an election-year visit where he plans to draw on the memory of allies united against tyranny to highlight the stakes of his campaign and draw a pointed comparison with Donald Trump.

Biden will join more than two dozen heads of state descending on Normandy along with dozens of World War II veterans, some more than a century old. They will honor troops from the United States, Canada and Britain who landed in France on June 6, 1944, in an offensive that laid the groundwork for the defeat of the Nazis.

Biden is also scheduled to deliver a speech on democracy and freedom on Friday, according to the White House, giving him an opportunity to put the struggle against authoritarianism in a global frame. A day later, he will meet President Emmanuel Macron for his first state visit to France as president.

The theme of this week’s ceremonies — a brotherhood of nations united in sacrifice to beat back authoritarianism — is one that is factoring heavily into Biden’s message in his campaign against Trump. The Biden campaign argues that the former president, who groundlessly denies his 2020 loss, is a would-be authoritarian who would end American democracy if he prevails.


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The contrast with Trump is likely to remain largely unspoken, but it will be hard to miss. Biden has turned a controversy from Trump’s own visit to France a half-decade ago, also for a D-Day observance, into a regular attack line, citing reports that the former president was reluctant to honor American service people buried at a French cemetery and reportedly called fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers.”

Trump has forcefully denied making the remarks. But Biden again touched on the reports at a fundraiser in Connecticut on Monday.

“‘Losers and suckers!’ Who in the hell does he think he is?” he said, his voice growing louder. “This guy does not deserve to be president, whether or not I’m running.”

Biden during his presidency has highlighted the task of rebuilding alliances damaged by Trump and working to restore America’s role as a world leader, rejecting Trump’s “America First” agenda and decrying him as a figure who was laughed at by his peers.

Biden has also criticized Trump for saying he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members if those countries are not spending their share on defense. And he has warned that Trump would give a freer hand to authoritarian leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

But as Biden arrives in France, he is at odds with other Western leaders over some of his own foreign policy positions, especially the U.S. role in conflagrations in Ukraine and Gaza.

Biden and Macron will discuss “the need for unwavering, long-term support for Ukraine,” according to the French government, but that comes as global support for a war inching toward the three-year mark has waned, including in the United States.

Biden has also taken political hits at home and abroad for his staunch support of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, as the death toll there has climbed above 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel launched its military campaign in the Palestinian enclave after Hamas militants surged into Israel on Oct. 7 and killed about 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

Through it all, Biden’s trip is likely to draw comparisons to Trump’s travels to France during his presidential term.

Five years ago, Trump visited Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, giving a speech that honored the troops who gave their lives at the historic site. Macron and other leaders used their remarks to praise international institutions like NATO and the European Union, but Trump spent little time hailing the alliances that emerged from World War II, sticking instead to “America First” themes.

Trump also drew criticism for using a Fox News interview, taped while he was at the Normandy American Cemetery, to rail against his political enemies despite the solemn setting. With the white, cross-shaped headstones of fallen service members in the background, Trump called former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III a “fool” and attacked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as “a disaster.”

Biden does not need to cite Trump by name to provide a vivid contrast with his predecessor’s “disastrous” appearances on the world stage, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian.

“By simply talking about how these men died trying to destroy authoritarianism, it will be inferred that Trump bungled his visit,” Brinkley said. “But [Biden] has to stay above the political fray. It would be deeply inappropriate to take a direct swipe at Trump while you’re on the sacred grounds of the cemetery.”

Trump also visited Paris in 2018, a trip that became controversial after he opted not to make a planned stop at a cemetery where U.S. service members were buried. A report in the Atlantic said Trump privately disparaged the service members buried there, an account that was later confirmed by his then-chief of staff, although others on the trip said bad weather was responsible for Trump’s decision.

Regardless, one of Biden’s final stops in France will be to lay a wreath at the World War I-era Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the site that Trump skipped.

Biden is likely to receive a warmer welcome in France than Trump did. The former president was unpopular with the French, while Biden, who invited Macron to Washington in 2022 for his administration’s first state visit, is generally well-liked here. Most visiting American presidents are greeted enthusiastically around wartime anniversaries in France, a country where the memory of the United States’ role in helping to end World War II is still very much alive.

Biden’s strong backing of Ukraine has also earned him support in France, said Renaud Girard, an international columnist at the French newspaper Le Figaro. “Biden will be well received because the majority of the French population, without being anti-Russian, found Russia’s aggression in 2022 unacceptable,” he said.

However, Biden could come up against a more divisive issue: the war in Gaza. Biden’s strong support for Israel is at odds with the views of a section of French society, which believes Israel “has gone too far in its reprisals after Oct. 7,” Girard said.

Antiwar protests occur regularly across France. The most recent, in Paris on Saturday, attracted 22,000 people, according to police. Some activist groups have planned protests this week, though they are not explicitly tied to Biden’s visit.

Still, said Girard, “the French public has understood that Biden has done everything possible to obtain a cease-fire,” including his recent announcement of a plan for a “durable end to the war.” In France, “Biden is not equated with Netanyahu,” Girard said.

Giving a moving speech on the beach at Normandy has become something of a tradition for American presidents, who have used the setting to praise U.S. service members and the global order they helped create. The Normandy landings were the largest joint naval, air and land assault ever carried out, and despite high casualties, the successful operation helped establish the U.S. military as the world’s premier fighting force.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan delivered a soaring speech at Pointe du Hoc that has been regarded as one of his most memorable.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Biden, who like Reagan at the time has struggled with low approval ratings on foreign policy and is seeking reelection, plans to deliver remarks at Pointe du Hoc as well. Reagan went on to win reelection in a landslide, something Biden is no doubt hoping to replicate, said Brinkley, whose book “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” examined Reagan’s speech and the U.S. troops who fought there.

“This is Biden’ s opportunity to showcase a soulful understanding of the cost of war,” he said.

Olorunnipa reported from Washington.

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