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The White House on Friday defended the presence of U.S. Marines at President Biden’s speech in Philadelphia the previous evening, arguing their positioning during the prime-time speech was to demonstrate the president’s respect for service members.

“The presence of the Marines at the speech was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect the president has for these service members to these ideals and the unique role our independent military plays in defending our democracy no matter which party is in power,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Marines were stationed behind the president as he spoke on Thursday, drawing scrutiny over the use of the military during a speech centered around blasting former President Trump and warning that the former president and Republicans aligned with him are “a threat to this country.”

“Whatever you think of this speech, the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it,” tweeted CNN anchor Brianna Keilar, whose husband is in the military.

White House officials have pushed back against criticism that the speech was overly political in nature.

“The president gave an important speech last night, a critical speech at an inflection point, and our democracy, our values, our values that our men and women who protect us every day and fight for every day believe in as well,” Jean-Pierre said Friday.

The White House spokeswoman maintained that “it’s not abnormal” to have military members during presidential speeches, pointing to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as previous presidents who also had service members on hand for speeches.

“It is not abnormal, it is actually normal, for presidents from either side of the aisle to give speeches in front of members of the military,” she said. “It is not an unusual sight, it is not an unusual event to have happened.”

Jean-Pierre reiterated the White House’s argument that Biden was simply recognizing the urgency of the issue in his remarks.

“Standing up for democracy is not political,” she said Friday.