Biden decries Trump’s ‘singular responsibility’ for the Capitol riot

By | January 6, 2022

President Joe Biden on Thursday marked one year since his predecessor’s supporters besieged the Capitol with a pointed rebuke of the violence — and a declaration that Donald Trump bears “singular responsibility” for the attack.

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy, our Constitution,” Biden said of the former president. Trump, he added, is “not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president, defeated by a margin of over seven million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.”

Biden both defended the integrity of the 2020 election and directly refuted the long-running effort by Trump and his allies to sow doubt about the vote. The president also, more subtly, countered Republicans who have urged Democrats to move past the insurrection and focus on the future.

“This isn’t about being bogged down in the past,” Biden said. “This is about making sure the past isn’t buried. That is what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth.”

Calling out Trump and his GOP allies marks a notable tonal shift for Biden. Since taking office, he’s largely held off on sharp barbs toward the foe he could face again in 2024. But Biden hewed to one of his post-election conventions on Thursday: He did not use Trump’s name while criticizing the former president.

“I did not want it to turn into a contemporary political battle between me and the [former] president,” Biden explained to reporters after the speech.

Trump responded with a meandering statement that blasted Biden for having “used my name today to try to further divide America” and went after the president’s approach to inflation, Afghanistan and immigration.

Biden’s speech to a still-reeling Capitol complex — which described rioters as “holding a dagger to the throat of America” — comes as Democrats prepare for a day of events marking the one-year anniversary of the riot with their leaders trying to emphasize unity and sober reflection. Republicans, for their parts, have largely spent the year falling in line behind Trump and his allies’ efforts to downplay the attack.

Just one GOP lawmaker so far has attended the Democrats’ events on Thursday to mark the anniversary: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the party’s best-known Trump antagonist who’s now helping to investigate the former president’s role in the attack.

While the House is not in session, nearly 30 Democrats trekked to Washington to attend their party’s events to mark one year since the attack. Most were members trapped in the House gallery as rioters broke into the building on Jan. 6, 2021.

Cheney arrived for a moment of silence on the House floor with her father, Dick Cheney, a former vice president and onetime member of House GOP leadership. After the moment of silence, both Cheneys were greeted with handshakes by nearly every Democrat in the chamber, including hugs and warm words for Liz Cheney from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Even the senior Cheney appeared to receive a warm welcome from Democrats — a scene few senior Democrats would have predicted 15 years ago, when their party claimed the House majority after years bludgeoning him as the face of then-President George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

Asked about how Republican leadership were handling the Capitol attack, the former vice president told reporters: “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.”

He pushed back, though, when asked if he was disappointed by how GOP leaders have treated Liz Cheney: “My daughter can take care of herself.”

The string of events on Thursday, planned by Pelosi, were intended to focus on those who endured the attack in the Capitol, rather than those behind the violence. It includes a moment of prayer, a series of member testimonials, and a prayer vigil on the Capitol steps.

Pelosi also held a private event where she personally thanked building staff for their role in protecting the Capitol and their members. The staff, including Capitol police officers, were treated to lunch served by several Democrats who had been in the chamber during the attack.

Senate Democrats spent part of Thursday commemorating the Jan. 6 attack on their chamber floor in a series of speeches and a moment of silence, though a vote was not scheduled and many members were in Atlanta for the funeral of former Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Speaking on the floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recalled the moment when a police officer grabbed his collar and informed him he was in danger.

“I was within 30 feet of these nasty, racist, bigoted insurrectionists,” Schumer said. “I was told later one of them reportedly said, ‘There’s the big Jew, let’s get him.’ Bigotry against one is bigotry against all.”

But while the effect on the building itself was a key focus, Biden and many Democrats also sought to play up the stark contrast between their party and the GOP, most of whose members remain deeply loyal to Trump. GOP leaders have urged their colleagues to spend the day focused on the security flaws at the Capitol rather than engage in any direct validation of the traumatic effects of the riot.

Although Trump himself called off a planned Thursday press conference amid GOP concerns that it could backfire, his biggest supporters in the House still intend to promote a distorted narrative of what occurred that day. Two of them, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, are gearing up for a press conference where they’re expected to repeat conspiracy theories related to the riot.

A smaller number of House Republicans, particularly some of the 10 who joined Democrats to impeach Trump for inciting the riot last year, continued to condemn the former president.

“Any reasonable person could have seen the potential for violence that day. Yet, our President did nothing to protect our country and stop the violence. The actions of the President on January 6th were nothing short of reprehensible,” Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), one of the 10 who voted to impeach Trump, said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said the mob was “provoked by” Trump in the immediate aftermath of the riot, released a Thursday statement that did not mention Trump by name. McConnell called the Capitol assault a “disgraceful scene” and “antithetical to the rule of law,” though he also blasted Democrats’ attempt to use the anniversary to advance election reforms as exploitative.

Harris alluded to that messaging in her remarks Thursday, calling on the Senate to advance voting rights legislation. Senate Republicans have signaled openness to a narrower change to the Electoral Count Act — passed more than a century ago to govern the certification of presidential election results — but without the broader changes to election administration that are insisted upon by top Democrats.

In the House, Democrats have led a yearlong investigation into the Jan. 6 attack alongside Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. The panel has interviewed more than 300 witnesses and pored over thousands of pages of documents as it prepares to move toward more public hearings this year.

But the lasting impact of its work remains unclear. Democrats are racing to finish their investigation by year’s end, as their grip on the majority looks increasingly in doubt ahead of the midterms. Several panel members are also retiring from Congress.

Republicans — who have blasted the Democratic-led committee’s work as a partisan cudgel — would be highly unlikely to finish up where the panel left off. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who earlier last year said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack, has lately trained his frustration on Democrats and accused them of politicizing the pro-Trump attack.

Marianne LeVine and Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.