President Joe Biden on Thursday savaged Donald Trump’s “lies” and attempt to overturn the 2020 election, vowing on the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot that he would let no one put a “dagger at the throat of democracy.”
After largely ignoring Trump for a year, Biden took off the gloves, describing the Republican as a cheat whose ego wouldn’t let him accept defeat and whose supporters almost shattered US democracy when they stormed Congress to prevent certification of the election.
“This was an armed insurrection,” Biden said in a speech from Statuary Hall inside the Capitol, where a year ago thousands of people brandishing Trump flags trampled over police to invade the chamber, forcing lawmakers to flee for their lives.
“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power,” Biden said.
“They came here in rage,” Biden said of Trump’s backers, and “held a dagger at the throat of America.”
“I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.”
Laying out the dangers facing a country that has long styled itself as leader of the free world, Biden asked: “Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm?”
“Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?” the veteran Democrat continued.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.”
– Trump sticks to lie –
Although Biden did not mention Trump’s name, he made clear whom he was talking about in a blistering portrait of a man he said scorned democracy because he couldn’t accept defeat.
“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Biden said. “He values power over principle.”
During the assault on Congress, Trump was “sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours,” Biden said, his anger clear. “He’s a defeated former president.”
Trump, who has spent the last year spreading conspiracy theories about his election loss to millions of followers, quickly responded by repeating his lie about the “rigged” election.
Democrats “got away with something, and it is leading to our country’s destruction,” his statement said, claiming Biden was mounting “political theater” to distract from failures.
– Republicans keep clear –
The day’s commemorative events were also to feature a speech by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and a prayer vigil on the steps of the Capitol.
However, such are the depths of division 12 months later that many senior Republicans didn’t even show up.
The party’s top lawmaker, Senator Mitch McConnell, was leading a delegation to a funeral of a recently deceased senator some 600 miles (965 kilometers) away in Atlanta, Georgia.
In a statement, McConnell said January 6 had been a “dark day” but called it “stunning to see some Washington Democrats try to exploit this anniversary.”
McConnell was among the senior Republicans a year ago who condemned Trump for stoking the unprecedented violence with his barrage of lies about fraud, which no court or independent investigator has ever substantiated.
Since then, however, almost the entire party has quietly backed off from talking about January 6, bowing to Trump’s enormous influence with Republican voters — and possible bid to return as president in 2024.
– ‘True patriotism’ –
On the eve of the anniversary, the Capitol police chief, Thomas Manger, said his forces would never be caught unprepared again, as they were last year.
But the political risk may be, if anything, higher than before.
Writing in The New York Times, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter said the United States “teeters on the brink of a widening abyss.”
“Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late,” Carter wrote.
More surprising was the voice of Karl Rove, one of the chief architects of Republican strategy over the last 30 years, who wrote in the right-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial pages that there was no forgiveness for the assault on democracy.
“There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Love of country demands nothing less. That’s true patriotism,” he wrote.