Biden’s Jan. 6 Speech to Lay ‘Singular Responsibility’ on Trump
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden will mark the first anniversary of the deadly Capitol insurrection seeking to rally Democrats around voting rights legislation, with a warning that inaction risks emboldening extremist followers of former President Donald Trump before the crucial midterm elections.
The president and his allies in Congress plan a full slate of events Thursday marking the Jan. 6 riot, preaching unity to a politically fractured nation -- and members of his own party, divided for months over legislative priorities including new social safety programs, climate initiatives and voter protections.
He’ll also take on Trump himself, aides say. The former president has turned Jan. 6 into a fealty test for fellow Republicans by obliging them to reject the new administration and accept his revisionist account of the deadly attack waged by his supporters to disrupt certification of his electoral defeat.
“I would expect President Biden will lay out the significance of what happened at the Capitol and the singular responsibility President Trump has for the chaos and carnage that we saw,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “And he will forcibly push back on the lies spread by the former president and attempt to mislead the American people and his own supporters, as well as distract from his role in what happened.”
Many Republicans -- including lawmakers who came under siege that day and criticized Trump in the immediate aftermath -- have in recent months fallen silent, sidestepping questions about the integrity of the 2020 election and the former president’s culpability in the riot, underscoring Trump’s continued grip on the conservative base.
Trump late on Tuesday canceled a news conference planned on Jan. 6 at his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, saying he would instead discuss his unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and other grievances at a rally later in the month. He blamed the retreat on the media and lawmakers investigating the insurrection.
The cancellation was announced as senior Republicans on Capitol Hill signaled they would avoid the spotlight on Thursday. That approach appeared to be a tacit admission of the political risks in Trump’s strategy of denying his role in the events of that day, along with the results of the election.
For Biden, his political and legislative legacy may rest on parlaying Americans’ continued disgust over the riot into political momentum and legislative action by a sharply divided Congress.
“The president’s going to speak to the truth of what happened, not the lies some of them spread since and the peril it poses to the rule of law and our system of democratic governance,” Psaki said. “He will also speak to the work we still need to do to secure and strengthen our democracy and our institutions, to reject the hatred and lies we saw on Jan. 6, and to unite our country.”
Democrats will attempt to amplify those themes throughout the day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled events including a session with historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham designed to put the events in context, along with testimonials from lawmakers about their experience during the attack. Pelosi will also participate in a CNN prime-time program broadcast from the Capitol on Thursday night.
The hope for Democrats is to paint a decisive contrast with the former president -- uniting themselves while turning the political litmus test Trump has devised for fellow Republicans into a liability.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has repeatedly invoked Jan. 6 in recent days as he pushes for passage of voting rights legislation and looks to change Senate rules if the effort is blocked by Republicans. Trump has encouraged Republican lawmakers on the state level to adopt new laws restricting absentee voting and strengthening identification requirements.
“Senate Democrats will make clear that what happened on Jan. 6th and the one-sided, partisan actions being taken by Republican-led state legislatures across the country are directly linked, and we can and must take strong action to stop this anti-democratic march,” Schumer said in a letter to colleagues.
But there are risks to Democrats’ strategy: the potential for legislative failure, which would highlight the president’s weakness after he invoked one of the darkest chapters in American history.
The chances of legislative success appear slim for voting rights legislation in the Senate, divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who last month dashed hopes of a more than $1.7 trillion social spending and climate bill championed by Biden, continued Tuesday to indicate his opposition to changes to Senate rules that would clear the way for the voting measure.
A legislative loss for Biden risks emboldening Trump, who, despite his status as a twice-impeached one-term president, has forced fellow Republicans to make a cold political calculation: accept the reality of the election results or suffer his wrath. A failure by Democrats to capitalize on the anniversary would fan doubts about Jan. 6’s resonance among voters, and increase the likelihood Republican candidates embrace Trump and his brand of extremism.
Trump has already unleashed attacks on what he calls “weak Republican RINOs” -- Republicans in Name Only -- in Michigan and other states are not supporting his focus on the 2020 election and false claims that it was stolen.
Trump issued a statement on Monday asking if any of his supporters wanted to challenge Representative Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who voted to support the Jan. 6 commission. Trump has so far endorsed almost 100 candidates running this year in 31 states, especially those backing his false election claims or challenging GOP incumbents who voted to impeach him over his role in the riot.
Senior GOP lawmakers are dealing with the anniversary’s political crosscurrents by keeping a low profile.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not scheduled any events to mark the insurrection, though he issued a statement calling the actions that day “as wrong as can be.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- a frequent source of Trump’s scorn -- has said he plans to travel to Georgia for the funeral of former Senator Johnny Isakson.
Psaki faulted GOP lawmakers on Wednesday, saying what is “most disappointing” to Biden is that “there has been a silence, and at times a complacency, by far too many Republicans who have sat by and defended the big lie and perpetuated misinformation to the American public.”
The Jan. 6 committee has been examining the role that Trump, along with his aides and allies, played in egging on supporters before the attack.
Most of the panel’s nearly six months of work has occurred behind closed doors, while Trump, his allies and conservative media have steadily bashed the inquiry as an effort to tar the former president.
But the committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said public hearings by this spring will detail evidence compiled from more than 300 witness interviews and at least 45,000 documents.
Both Thompson and the panel’s top Republican, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have suggested the committee isn’t ruling out “criminal referrals” to the Justice Department.
The dual track investigations could unearth new and damning evidence that make the embrace of the former president by many in the GOP a larger political liability. Or, the efforts may fall short of the broader conspiracy suspected by the former president’s harshest critics and solidify resentments among Republican voters, like previous investigations labeled by Trump as a “witch hunt.”
For both the former president and his successor, however, the upcoming anniversary will play a crucial role in cementing the political legacy and legal consequences of the Jan. 6 attack.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.