Biden expected to lead National Prayer Breakfast with much different tone

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and USAID administrator Raj Shah are seated together at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and USAID administrator Raj Shah are seated together at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Unlike his predecessor, President Biden is not expected to focus on political opponents, nor impeachment, nor wedge issues as he speaks to this year’s virtual breakfast gathering on Thursday.

The 2020 National Prayer Breakfast was a victory lap of sorts for then-President Trump as he used the event to go after his enemies. He waved copies of USA Today and the Washington Post that touted his acquittal in his first impeachment trial. His remarks at the event focused on political opponents who led the investigation against him and the following impeachment.

In 2019, Trump used the event to advocate for issues long-supported by conservative Christian groups from religious liberty to abortion.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who was elected in 2010 to the seat Biden vacated when he became VP, has been attending the event for more than a decade.

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“There have been significant changes in tone and in focus from President Obama, to President Trump, to what I hope and expect will be a different tone and focus tomorrow under President Biden,” he said. “I’ve seen the ways that his faith has strengthened his service, has focused his priorities, and makes him just the right leader for our nation for this particularly difficult moment.”

Biden was often seen visiting the Catholic church near his home in Wilmington in the weeks between the election and last month’s inauguration. He’s spoken frequently about how his faith helped sustain him following the 1972 death of his wife and infant daughter in a car accident.

“I find great solace in my faith,” Biden said during a 2017 conversation with Fresh Air host Terry Gross at WHYY’s President’s Dinner. “I’m not that spiritual but, I’ve found that for me, the externalities in my faith bring me a sense of peace.”

As the U.S. COVID-19 death toll approaches 500,000, expect Biden to attempt to pass along the solace he’s received to others who are grieving around the country.

While Biden is just the second Catholic to serve in the White House following former President Kennedy, Coons said he recognizes the contributions of all faiths and those who are not religious.

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“[He] respects, and reaches out to and recognizes, the value of the very broad range of faith experiences, and is a president who recognizes and welcomes Americans of good character, and public service and engagement, who do not practice any particular faith,” Coons said.

The event itself has come under criticism in recent years, particularly following the Netflix series “The Family,” which focused on the event’s history as a gathering for Christian Nationalists.

Coons, who has co-chaired the event in years past, dismissed those concerns.

“This is not a Christian Nationalist event. It is an event that recognizes the teachings of Jesus but is not in any way limited to Christians or Christianity,” he said.

“I think you can find fault or find grounds to criticize what is generally a positive and nonpartisan and inclusive event, but for me at this moment in our history, I think it’s important to embrace an opportunity for Americans of all backgrounds to come together.”

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