Biden Tears Into Trump, Blaming Him for Jan. 6 Insurrection

Biden plans a blistering critique of Donald Trump as he marks the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Biden Tears Into Trump, Blaming Him for Jan. 6 Insurrection
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in Washington. (Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Abaca/Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden blamed Donald Trump directly for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol a year ago, saying the former president turned to violence to try to overturn the election he lost.

“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said in a speech Thursday in the building’s Statuary Hall, commemorating the first anniversary of the insurrection.

The president on Thursday morning called on lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation intended to rebut changes sought by Trump loyalists in state governments across the nation that would limit access to absentee voting and strengthen identification requirements.

Biden Tears Into Trump, Blaming Him for Jan. 6 Insurrection

Biden said that after Trump “rallied the mob to attack” the Capitol, he sat “in the private dining room off the Oval office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the nation’s capitol under siege.”

The speech is part of a day of commemoration, featuring remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with other Democrats, and discussions about democracy. Trump canceled a press conference originally scheduled for Thursday at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate at the urging of allies. 

Vice President Kamala Harris said at the Capitol Thursday, ahead of Biden’s remarks, that American democracy remains at risk.

“On January 6th, we all saw what our nation would look like if the forces who seek to dismantle our democracy are successful. The lawlessness, the violence, the chaos,” she said. “What was at stake then, and now, is the right to have our future decided the way the constitution describes it.”

She applauded lawmakers for returning to the Capitol after the riot to finish counting electoral college votes, certifying Biden’s victory. 

“Their resolve -- not to yield, but to certify the election -- their loyalty, not to party or person, but to the Constitution of the United States; that reflects its strength,” she said.

Biden’s address -- from a location that was swarmed a year ago by Trump supporters seeking to block certification of his election -- was a rhetorical opportunity to reorient his presidency away from the resurgent coronavirus, Democratic infighting and persistent inflation. Biden offered a nearly point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

“Even before the first ballot was cast, the former president was preemptively sowing doubt about the election results,” Biden said. ‘He built his lie over months -- wasn’t based in any facts, he was just looking for an excuse, a pretext, to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president, he’s a defeated former president. Defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.”

Biden never said Trump’s name, sticking to descriptions like “former president” or “defeated former president.”

Biden noted that Republicans supporting Trump’s claims have never contested the results of down-ballot elections in which the GOP made gains in the House of Representatives and won governor’s races. 

“There is simply zero proof the election results were inaccurate,” he said, calling it the most “closely scrutinized” vote in U.S. history.

He cast himself as a defender of democracy, repeating a warning he’s delivered before that autocracies around the world believe they are ascendant and that the U.S. is in a “battle for the soul of America.”

“I did not seek this fight brought to this Capitol one year ago today,” Biden said. “But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation, and I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.”

Biden is trying to recapture political momentum and support from moderate voters horrified by the harsh partisanship and extremist rhetoric that crested on Jan. 6. The new year will be politically decisive with midterm elections in November and lawmakers weighing the president’s signature domestic legislative tax and spending plan.

The simplest way for Biden to reverse his sagging approval ratings may be to re-engage with Trump as a political foil. The president’s approval fell to just 40% of Americans in a USA Today/Suffolk poll released last week, driven by independents who have soured on his performance.

But just 39% of voters approve of Trump, according to an analysis of polls by FiveThirtyEight, while 58% disapprove.

The president and other Democratic leaders are particularly hopeful the anniversary could bolster the prospects for their voting rights bill. Biden plans to continue his push for the legislation with a speech Tuesday in Atlanta.

Biden Tears Into Trump, Blaming Him for Jan. 6 Insurrection

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he would try again to pass the measure in coming days, and push for changes to the Senate rules that would make it easier to overcome Republican opposition if GOP lawmakers use filibuster procedures to halt passage.

Trump issued a statement saying Biden referred to him “to try to further divide America.”

“The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America,” Trump said. “I say, let them have it because America sees through theirs lies and polarizations.”

Republican GOP leaders are planning to keep a low profile: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not announced any events to mark the anniversary, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning to travel to Georgia for the funeral of former Senator Johnny Isakson.

Democrats, by contrast, have planned what Pelosi described to colleagues in a letter as “a full program of events” as part of “this solemn observance.” All events will be live-streamed, so that lawmakers who are not in Washington can participate.

The activities will include a discussion beginning at 1 p.m. Washington time among historians “about the narrative of that day.” That is to occur after the opening of a session of the House at noon that will include a prayer, pledge and a moment of silence.

The historians’ conversation will be moderated by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and will include the authors Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.

Later, House members led by Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, will share their recollections of Jan 6, with testimonials to reflect on what happened. Democrats are also expected to release a new report on Capitol security, and Pelosi will participate in a special television program on CNN Thursday night.

While leading Republicans have opted to steer clear of the anniversary, two conservative firebrands -- Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia -- are holding an afternoon news conference they’re billing as a “Republican response.” 

They are also expected to appear on the podcast of former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who is under indictment for his refusal to cooperate with the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks.

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