President Joe Biden on Thursday led Democrats to loudly condemn Donald Trump’s efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections, pleading with Americans to defend their institutions and reject the political violence that engulfed Congress exactly a year ago.
Standing in a hall seized by Trump supporters during the Capitol riots, Biden said the former president was “solely responsible” for the attempted rebellion that caused then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to flee in search of safety – and left more than 140 police officers behind. … officers are injured.
“His wounded ego means more to him than our democracy, our Constitution,” Biden said of Trump, without giving him his name. Trump, he added, “is not just a former president. He is a defeated former president, defeated by your seven million votes in full, free and fair elections. ”
Biden’s speech set the tone for a solemn day of reflection in the House of Representatives, as lawmakers lined up at the House of Representatives office building to recall their own experiences of escaping the crowd of Trump supporters. Among those present were the family of Capitol Police Officer Brian Siknik, who died of a stroke the day after the attack.
The event was a reminder of the threat to a peaceful transfer of power and a tribute to the law enforcement officials who prevented it, but also a reminder of the Republicans now seeking to distance themselves from it. Only Rep. Liz Cheney (RR Wyoming), deputy chair of the special commission to investigate the attack, walked the hallways during the day, accompanied by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In his speech, Biden defended the integrity of the 2020 election and bluntly denied long-standing attempts by Trump and his allies to sow doubts about the vote. The president also spoke out against the Republicans, who called on Democrats to forget about the uprising and focus on the future.
“This is not about getting caught up in the past,” Biden said. “The point is that the past is not buried. This is what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth. “
The address to Trump and his GOP allies marks a marked change in tone for Biden. Since taking office, he has largely avoided direct confrontations with the enemy he may face again in 2024. But on Thursday, Biden stuck to one of his post-election agreements: He did not use Trump’s name when criticizing the former president.
“I didn’t want this to turn into a modern political battle between me and [former] the president," Biden explained to reporters after his speech.
Trump responded with a wandering statement in which Biden was heavily criticized for being "used my name today to try and divide America even more" and pursued the president’s approach to inflation, Afghanistan and immigration.
But one of the former president’s worst opponents has taken a markedly different stance. After a moment’s silence in the House of Representatives, Cheney spoke sharply against their party.
“This leadership is unlike anyone I knew when I worked here for 10 years,” the former vice president told reporters when asked about how Republican leaders handled the attack on the Capitol.
The two, who were the only Republicans in the audience when Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke, were later greeted with handshakes by nearly all Democrats in the audience. Even Cheney Sr. appears to have received a warm welcome from Democrats – a scene that few senior Democrats would have predicted 15 years ago, when their party won a House majority after beating him for years as the foreign policy face of the then president. George W. Bush.
Aside from Cheney, the only GOP attending the Capitol on Thursday were representatives Matt Goetz (RR) and Marjorie Taylor Green (RR), who convened a press conference to promote unconfirmed conspiracy theories about the cause of the attack. attack.
The House of Representatives was not in session, but about 30 Democrats went to Washington for events marking the anniversary of the terrorist attack. Most were members who were trapped in a gallery in the House of Representatives when rioters stormed the building on January 6, 2021. Lawmakers gave their own emotional testimonies Thursday afternoon, reaching out to a small group of lawmakers, staff and other participants, including Siknik’s parents. a Capitol police officer who died the day after the attack.
Pelosi’s string of events on Thursday targeted those who survived the Capitol attack, not those responsible for the violence. In addition to a minute of silence and testimony from members, Democrats also held an evening prayer vigil on the steps of the Capitol, where members gathered at near-freezing temperatures to reflect on their day one last time.
Pelosi, reflecting on what January 6 means for the state of democracy, said Thursday that the attack on the Capitol was a reminder to always be on the lookout and that democracy is underway.
“[Democracy] does not die, ”Pelosi told CNN reporter Anderson Cooper on Thursday night at the Capitol. – But it requires attention.
Previously, Pelosi also hosted a private event where she personally thanked the building staff for their role in protecting the Capitol and its members. Afterward, staff, including the Capitol Police, were treated to a lunch donated by renowned chef and philanthropist José Andrés. The food was served by several Democrats who were in the hall during the riots.
Senate Democrats also spent part of Thursday marking the January 6 attack with a series of speeches and a minute of silence, although no vote was scheduled and many members were in Atlanta for the funeral of former Senator Johnny Isakson.
In his speech, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recalled the moment when a police officer grabbed him by the collar and announced that he was in danger: “I was within 30 feet of these vile, racist, fanatical rebels.”
“Later I was told that one of them allegedly said: ‘Here is a big Jew, let’s get him,” said Schumer.
But while the emotional turmoil in the Capitol remained in the spotlight, Biden and many Democrats also sought to demonstrate a stark contrast between their party and the GOP, whose majority remain deeply loyal to Trump. GOP leaders urged their colleagues to spend the day focusing on the security flaws in the Capitol rather than engaging in any kind of direct verification of the traumatic aftermath of the riots.
Fewer House Republicans, especially some of the 10 who joined Democrats to impeach Trump for inciting unrest last year, continued to denounce the former president.
“Any sane person could see the potential for violence that day. However, our president did nothing to protect our country and end the violence. The president’s actions on January 6 were nothing short of reprehensible, ”Rep. Tom Rice (RS.C.), one of 10 who voted to impeach Trump, said in a statement.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who said the crowd was “provoked” by Trump in the immediate aftermath of the riots, released a statement Thursday that did not mention Trump’s name. McConnell called the storming of the Capitol a “shameful scene” and “contrary to the rule of law,” although he also criticized the Democrats’ attempt to use the anniversary to push electoral reforms as exploitative.
Vice President Kamala Harris referred to this message in her speech Thursday, urging the Senate to push forward voting rights legislation.
“Here, in this very building, a decision will be made about whether we support the right to vote and whether we provide free and fair elections,” Harris said. “We cannot sit on the sidelines.”
Marianne LeVine and Olivia Beevers contributed to this report.