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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

On Tuesday, Joe Biden told his advisers he wanted to give a speech in South Carolina to address, and preempt, the mounting attacks on his record concerning race and civil rights. Sources close to Biden told me he was still rewriting the draft on Saturday in the car en route to Sumter, South Carolina, where he gave the speech to a mostly black audience.

  • "Given the coverage we got coming out of the debate ... we could die by death by a thousand cuts here," said a source familiar with the thinking in Biden’s camp.
  • "So it was either you wrap it all up in a bow and you say, 'Look, this is who I am. Barack Obama picked me, so if it was good enough for Barack Obama it's good enough for me' ... or we could have fought each one of these battles individually."
  • "This was an attempt to wrap it all up in a bow."

Between the lines: Biden's interview with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and his speech on Saturday signaled a more assertive approach from the Democratic front-runner.

  • In Biden's Sumter speech, he emphasized his close relationship with Obama, defended himself against Sen. Kamala Harris' busing attack, expressed regret for his comments about his work with segregationists, and pitched a progressive vision for criminal justice reform — trying to preempt attacks on his support for the 1994 crime bill. 
  • "Anyone who believes that the VP is going to take distortions and out-of-context snippets of his record without fighting back should have been disabused of that notion," a Biden adviser said.

Behind the scenes: Advisers say Biden was ready for Sen. Bernie Sanders to attack him on the debate stage for being insufficiently progressive, as his camp hinted it would come. Biden anticipated that busing might come up in the debate, aides said, but they said he did not expect Harris to misleadingly imply that he opposed the local voluntary busing that took her to school as a child.

  • Biden told Cuomo: "I wasn't prepared for the person coming at me the way she came at — she knew Beau [Biden's late son], she knows me, I don't — anyway, I — but here's the deal. What I do know — and it's the good and the bad news, the American people think they know me, and they know me. 
  • "Since that occurred, I had the most sought-after endorsement for the mayor of Atlanta, a black woman who is a great leader, endorse me. I’ve had numerous members of a Black Caucus endorse me."

Go deeper

Senate Democrats reach deal on extending unemployment insurance

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats struck a deal Friday evening to extend unemployment insurance in President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after deliberating and halting other action for roughly nine hours, per a Senate aide.

Why it matters: The Senate can now resume voting on other amendments to the broader rescue bill.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.