Biden Hammers Trump Over Riot, Warns of Ongoing Threat
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden warned the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol is part of an assault on democracy that Donald Trump and his supporters are continuing to wage a year after the deadly riot.
Biden’s speech was his most detailed rebuttal yet of the effort by Trump and prominent Republicans to raise doubt about the results of the 2020 election and rewrite voting laws, state by state.
Without uttering his name, Biden identified the former president as the leader of the campaign to undercut the results and incite his supporters to riot at the Capitol last Jan. 6. Biden warned that the political forces that set off the riot are raging today as Trump loyalists in state governments seek to limit access to absentee voting and tighten rules for eligibility.
“I will defend this nation, and I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy,” Biden said Thursday from the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, which was swarmed a year ago by Trump supporters seeking to block certification of the election. “We will make sure the will of the people is heard, that the ballot prevails, not violence, that authority in this nation will always be peacefully transferred.”
The speech is part of a day of commemoration, featuring remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with other Democrats, who are seeking to refocus public attention on a dark chapter in U.S. history and dampen enthusiasm for another Trump presidency.
Politically, Biden sought to draw a clear contrast with his predecessor as the president’s own popularity sags under the weight of a resurgent coronavirus outbreak and high inflation, threatening to hand Republicans control of the House and Senate in this year’s midterm elections.
Appealing to Moderates
Biden’s approach -- focusing on the dangers posed to democracy by Trump and his supporters, who continue to push a revisionist and false history of the 2020 election and insurrection -- is aimed at helping him recapture support from moderate voters.
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.
Despite his approval rating, Trump’s grip on the Republican party remains strong, which could be seen in the way the Jan. 6 anniversary events played out. As lawmakers gathered in the House chamber to mark the day, the only Republicans spotted were Representative Liz Cheney, who has become isolated in her party because of her persistent criticism of Trump, and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Indeed, Biden’s speech took aim at some of the most frequent claims by Republicans who have either supported the false claims that fueled the insurrection, or remained silent.
Biden cited legal challenges and reviews that found no widespread fraud in key states where Trump pressured officials to overturn results. Biden pointed out that Republicans celebrated gains in the House of Representatives in same election that ejected Trump from office -- and that Republicans argue the top of the ballot was skewed while “somehow those results were accurate.”
“He can’t accept he lost even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost,” Biden said. “The truth is that no election, no election in American history has been more closely scrutinized or more carefully counted.”
Biden said federal voting rights laws are needed to counter efforts to suppress and subvert balloting. “New laws are being written, not to protect the vote, but to deny it,” he said.
He and Vice President Kamala Harris likened the attack to those on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center, and likened the moment to prominent milestones in the decades long civil rights struggle in America.
“We cannot let our future be decided by those bent on silencing our voices, overturning our votes and peddling lies and misinformation, by some radical faction that may be newly resurgent but whose roots run old and deep,” Harris said, calling on the Senate to pass voting bills that have stalled without Republican support.
Biden urged people to not shy away from images of that day -- of rioters breaching the Capitol building, roaming the halls and violently clashing with police, some of whom died and many of whom were injured.
“What did we not see?” Biden asked. “We didn’t see a former president who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting 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. This wasn’t a group of tourists, this was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people, they were looking to deny the will of the people.”
Biden said Trump built his “Big Lie” over months before votes were cast, and said that the U.S. is at the center of a global struggle between autocracy and democracy, saying Russia and China are betting that the U.S. will soon look more like their own political systems.
In an effort to counter-program Democrats’ message on Thursday, Trump originally planned a news conference at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. But he called it off at the urging of allies.
Instead, Trump issued a statement denouncing Biden and his party. “The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America,” Trump said.
As Biden departed the Capitol, he was asked why he didn’t invoke Trump’s name.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about whether I’m president or she’s vice president,” he said. “It’s about the system, and about somebody who decides to put himself above everything. And so, I did not want to turn it into a contemporary political battle between me and the president. It’s way beyond that.”
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