January 28, 2022

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Biden Assails Trump in Speech Over Jan. 6 Riot, Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election Results – The Wall Street Journal

7 min read

WASHINGTON—President Biden assailed former President Donald Trump and a mob of his supporters for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, using the first anniversary of the attack to rebuke his predecessor’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election results.

The president accused Mr. Trump of spreading a “web of lies about the 2020 election,” pointing to his false claims of election fraud and his attempt to block the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory by Congress that day. Speaking in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, he characterized last year’s events as a fundamental threat to the nation’s democracy and orderly transfer of power.

“I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy,” Mr. Biden said of his onetime campaign rival, crediting law-enforcement officers, including the Capitol Police, for saving the rule of law.

In a speech that marked an extraordinary denunciation of a former president, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s “bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

The president had previously avoided lengthy discussions of Mr. Trump, saying he doesn’t think about his predecessor. On Thursday, Mr. Biden didn’t directly mention Mr. Trump by name, referring to him instead as the former president.

A year after pro-Trump rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers and Americans remain divided over what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, and who is to blame. WSJ journalists look at changes in Congress since then, and what it could mean for the 2022 midterm elections. Photos: Getty Images

Responding in a series of emailed statements, Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden “used my name today to try to further divide America. This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has completely and totally failed.” Mr. Trump, who was banned by Twitter in the aftermath of the riot, reiterated his claim that the “real insurrection” happened on Election Day in 2020, not Jan. 6, 2021.

The former president had planned to hold a news conference later in the day. But he canceled the event Tuesday night, saying he would discuss the anniversary during a coming rally in Arizona.

Mr. Trump, who still has broad influence in the Republican Party but hasn’t said whether he will mount another presidential campaign, said that “MAGA Republicans should get elected and work with me” to counter Democrats in the midterm elections, referring to his Make America Great Again slogan.

Mr. Biden’s remarks opened a somber day of remembrances on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) each led a moment of silence on the House and Senate floors. In the afternoon, lawmakers provided public testimonials.

The attack has served as a dividing line between the two parties in Congress, and few Republicans participated in the formal commemorations. Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), accompanied by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the only GOP lawmaker who attended the moment of silence in the House chamber.

Vice President Kamala Harris equated the Capitol riot to some of the darkest days in the nation’s history.

Photo: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Democrats have called the riot an assault on democracy, and have cited the event in calling for passing new election laws. GOP leaders have condemned the action of rioters, but they have accused Democrats of trying to use the attack to embarrass Republicans for political gain.

Mr. Biden said the moment called for Americans to “decide what kind of nation are we going to be? 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?”

“We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation,” Mr. Biden said. He said Jan. 6 marked “not the end of democracy. It’s the beginning of a renaissance of liberty and fair play.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking before Mr. Biden, equated the riot to some of the darkest days in the nation’s history, including the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) criticized Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris over their remarks, saying that the speeches “were an effort to resurrect a failed presidency more than marking the anniversary of a dark day in American history.”

The Proud Boys, a far-right group, have tried to play down their role in the Capitol riot. A WSJ investigation shows that at many of the day’s key moments, Proud Boys were at the forefront. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

Hours before the Capitol breach a year ago, Mr. Trump spoke at a rally and urged his supporters to stop Mr. Biden’s win, repeating his false claims that the election was stolen. Some of his supporters then marched to the Capitol and overwhelmed police officers, forcing the evacuation of lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence and temporarily disrupting the certification of Mr. Biden’s win. More than 700 people face criminal charges for their actions that day.

The D.C. medical examiner’s office determined that four people died as a result of the riot, including Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to jump through shattered glass at the door to the Speaker’s Lobby. Two died of heart conditions and one from an amphetamine intoxication. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit was assaulted at the riot, suffered a stroke and died the following day of natural causes, the medical examiner’s office found.

House Democrats, joined by 10 Republicans, impeached Mr. Trump last January on the charge of inciting an insurrection. Mr. Trump was then acquitted in the Senate, with the votes of all Democrats and seven Republicans falling short of the two-thirds threshold needed to convict.

Now, a House select committee is investigating the events leading up to the storming of the Capitol. House Democrats created the panel last summer, with nearly all House Republicans voting against it, after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of a bipartisan commission modeled on one created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Republicans are splintered over the Capitol riot. Ms. Cheney, one of her party’s most outspoken critics of Mr. Trump and the co-chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, told reporters that “the future of the country is at stake, and there are moments when we all have to come together in order to defend the Constitution.”

President Biden with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the U.S. Capitol Thursday.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Press Pool

“You would think that they would close the page on 2021 and start looking forward. And yet they still want to just continue to go and blame everything and attack Donald Trump and try to divide this country even further,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.), the House minority whip, on Fox News.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) said that the false assertion that Mr. Biden stole the election needed to be countered with facts. “Truth is the antidote to the violence and lies that followed those events,” Mr. Romney said.

Most lawmakers were in their home states, with no votes in either the House or the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and other members of the Senate attended a funeral Thursday in Atlanta for the late former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.).

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Dozens of Democrats stayed to deliver remarks. Democrats recalled the terror of being trapped in the House gallery, the chaotic stampede from the Senate floor, the hiss of gas masks and the police officers who battled the mob.

Rep. Sara Jacobs (D., Calif.) remembered “climbing over chairs and under rails; not sure where the rioters were and if we were going fast enough to escape them.”

Democrats have linked the Jan. 6 attack to their drive to pass new federal elections laws, saying that both the riot and new state voting laws were aimed at the same goal of denying the will of the people. Republicans reject that connection and say election rules are best left in states’ hands.

For the anniversary of the Capitol riot, the Department of Homeland Security said it is operating at a heightened level of vigilance.

Photo: WILL OLIVER/EPA/Shutterstock

Mr. Schumer has set a Jan. 17 deadline for the Senate to take action on the elections legislation, which would mandate 15 days of early voting and require all states to allow mail-in voting, among other provisions. He said he could pursue weakening Senate filibuster procedures if Republicans block the measures, which like most bills currently need 60 votes to advance. Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris plan to travel to Atlanta next week to promote the voting rights legislation.

Republicans have decried the push to change Senate rules, which would weaken the minority party’s power to stop legislation.

“A year ago today, the Senate did not bend or break,” Mr. McConnell said. “We stuck together, stood strong, gaveled back in, and did our job. Senators should not be trying to exploit this anniversary to damage the Senate in a different way from within.”

Mr. McConnell earlier this week proposed one response to the attack: changing the Electoral Count Act, the 1887 law that establishes procedures for counting the Electoral College’s presidential votes. Mr. Trump and his allies had tried to pressure Mr. Pence to refuse to certify some states’ results in a bid to throw the election to Mr. Trump, and proponents of revising the law say changes are needed to prevent a future vice president from interfering in the count.

Democrats rejected that approach, saying their broader legislation was needed.

“The McConnell plan—that’s what it is—is unacceptable, unacceptably insufficient, and even offensive,” Mr. Schumer said. “Scorekeeping matters little if the game is rigged.”

Jan. 6 Anniversary

Write to Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

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