Biden unleashes a year’s worth of anger at Trump in Jan. 6 speech, blasting him as an undemocratic liar
WASHINGTON – For much of his presidency, Joe Biden has deliberately avoided criticizing his predecessor, rarely uttering Donald Trump’s name and claiming he barely even thinks about the man he replaced.
That ended on Thursday when Biden delivered his most forceful remarks yet about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack last year and pinned responsibility directly on Trump. It was a remarkably blunt, impassioned speech, marked by flashes of anger, from a president who, until now, had seemed determined not to let Trump overshadow his first year in office.
Biden accused his predecessor of spreading a “web of lies” about alleged fraud in the 2020 election because “he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest.”
Throughout the speech, he referred to Trump as the “former president” – 16 times in all – rather than by his name. His remarks came in a somber event at the Capitol to mark one since the Jan. 6 insurrection, with the president’s voice bouncing off the marble floor and walls.
Trump’s “bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”
“He’s not just a former president,” Biden added. “He’s a defeated former president, defeated by a margin of over 7 million votes.”
Trump, his enablers ‘held a dagger at the throat of America’
Since his inauguration nearly one year ago, Biden has sought to strike a balance between addressing the wounds of Jan. 6 and enacting his own domestic agenda. He typically mentions Trump only when reporters specifically ask about the ex-Republican president, a one-time reality television star who knows how to steal the spotlight.
But on Thursday, Biden directly addressed Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and offered a detailed rebuttal debunking the former president’s false claims of election fraud.
“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 cast his own presidency as a fight for American democracy, calling on Americans to make Jan. 6 “not the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance of liberty and fair play.”
“I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year ago today, but I will not shrink from it either,” Biden said.
On that day, a mob of Trump’s supporters violently stormed the building in an effort to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory. It came after weeks of false allegations from Trump accusing Biden and Democrats of stealing the election in several states that Trump narrowly lost. Months before the election, Trump planted the seeds for his resistance with a relentless attack on mail voting.
Trump responded in a written statement Thursday, calling Biden’s speech “very hurtful to many people” and saying it was Biden who spread a “web of lies.”
After his speech, Biden told reporters he “did not want it to turn into a contemporary political battle between me and the (former) president” when asked why he didn’t mention Trump by name.
But the blows were no less striking.
“You can’t love your country only when you win. You can’t obey the law only when it is convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies,” the president said.
He said those who stormed the Capitol and those who instigated and incited the events “held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy.”
Did Biden wait too long?
As he walked through the Capitol on his way to Statuary Hall before the speech, a reporter asked Biden how he was feeling about the day.
“I’m praying that we will never have a day like we had a year ago today,” he said. “That’s what I’m praying.”
Many on the left have begged Biden to make the case against Trump and his election falsehoods far sooner. An ABC/Ipsos poll released this week found 71% of Republicans side with Trump’s false claims and believe he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.
Still, Biden’s most ardent allies in Congress applauded the president’s decision to mark the one year with such a searing speech
“I think he picked the exact right time,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. said.
The speech came as Biden faces increasing pressure to push for federal voting rights legislation that would counter voting restrictions passed in many Republican-controlled state legislatures.
“The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote. It’s to subvert our elections,” Biden said. “It’s wrong, It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s un-American.”
Yet the question remains: What will Biden and Democrats do about it?
Civil rights leaders have watched in dismay as Trump continues to push “the big lie” and Republicans – many who condemned the Jan. 6 attack last year – embrace the former president. They’ve demanded that Biden be more vocal about what’s at stake and called on him to support eliminating the Senate’s filibuster rules so Democrats can pass voting rights bills without Republican support.
Biden has said he’s open to supporting filibuster changes for voting rights but has yet to demand that Senate Democrats move ahead. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., remain opposed to killing the filibuster for voting rights.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also applauded the speech and called any criticism about its timing “nitpicking.”
But she said this cannot be the end. She said the next step for Democrats is to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would set minimum voting standards, including for early voting options, voting by mail and same-day registration on Election Day.
“There’s a national (Republican) strategy, state-by-state, including Michigan, to make sure they can manipulate the rules and succeed next time,” Stabenow said.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann and David Jackson
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.