(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered what he declared was the “God’s truth” marking the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, the violent attack by Donald Trump’s supporters that has fundamentally changed Congress and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.
Biden’s criticism was particularly blistering of then-President Trump and his violent supporters.
“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed.”
“I will stand in this breach,” he declared, his voice rising.
“Democracy was attacked,” Biden said at the Capitol. “We the people endure. We the people prevailed.”
President Obama and congressional Democrats began the day at Statuary Hall. This is one of many spots from which rioters invaded a year earlier and disrupted the electoral count. Biden made a distinction between what actually happened and false narratives about it, such as the refusal of many Republicans to confirm that Biden was elected in 2020.
“You and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes,” Biden said.
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He asked those listening to close their eyes and recall what they saw that day, as he described the harrowing, violent scene, the mob attacking police, threatening the House speaker, erecting gallows threatening to hang the vice president — all while then-President Trump sat at the White House watching it on TV.
“Here is the God’s truth about Jan. 6, 2021,” Biden said. ”They were looking to subvert the Constitution.”
“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. Here’s the truth,” he said. “The former president of the United States of America has spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.”
The day will feature a number of remembrance events that will be attended by Democrats in person as well as virtually. However, almost all Republican members on Capitol Hill will not be there. The division is a stark reminder of the rupture between the two parties, worsening since hundreds of Trump’s supporters violently pushed past police, used their fists and flagpoles to break through the windows of the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.
Although almost all congressional Republicans strongly condemned the attack, the majority of Republicans remained loyal to the former president.
Rep. Liz Cheney, chair of the House committee investigating the attack and one of the few GOP lawmakers attending the Capitol ceremonies, warned that “the threat continues.” Trump, she said, “continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on January 6.”
“Unfortunately, too many in my own party are embracing the former president, are looking the other way or minimizing the danger,” she told NBC’s “Today.” “That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”
Mitch McConnell was absent as well, but there were others, including the Senate Republican leader. A contingent of Georgian colleagues also attended the funeral for Johnny Isakson.
Democrats who are investigating the insurrection will spend the next months explaining to the American people what exactly happened on January 6. However, leaders will use the anniversary to appeal to other patriotic instincts.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden said his impetus for running for the White House was to fight for the “soul of the nation” after watching Trump’s comments that some good people were among the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. His fear was that American democracy was under threat and he believed that the attack on Jan. 6, 2017, was a clear demonstration of that.
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Some in Biden’s party have criticized him for failing to explain to Americans how democracy is in danger or for pushing Congress to pass voting rights and election legislation. This is due to a Senate filibuster. President Biden has said that Americans can show their government is capable of working, and democracy can be strengthened. Critics say this isn’t enough.
On Thursday, aides said, Biden will harken back to his call during his inaugural address, just two weeks after the insurrection, for leaders to speak the truth about the attack and what motivated it — even as some GOP lawmakers and the public deny the events of that day.
“There is truth and there are lies,” Biden said at the time. “Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, too, is marking the anniversary with a high-minded appeal, telling The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that “democracy won that night,” when Congress returned to the Capitol after the riot and affirmed Biden’s victory.
Pelosi scheduled a moment’s silence at the House to commemorate the occasion. This is where several members were evacuated or were held hostage by the rioters. She will also deliver private remarks to Hill staff who, as she told AP, stayed to “protect our democracy.”
Later, Democratic leaders will have a moderated conversation with historians Doris Kearns Goodwin & Jon Meacham. There will also be a session that features testimonials from those who attended the event. Many of these events will be streamed live, even though many legislators will not be able to attend due to COVID-19 concerns.
Biden’s sharp message and the Republicans’ distance from it come as lawmakers are adjusting to the new normal on Capitol Hill — the growing tensions that many worry will result in more violence or, someday, a legitimate election being overturned. Democrats and a handful of Republicans feel a desperate urgency to connect to a public in which some have come to believe Trump’s lies that the election was stolen from him and that the attack wasn’t violent at all.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has released a poll showing that three in ten Republicans believe the attack was nonviolent. A further third of those 10 said it was violent. Nearly two-thirds, or 9 out of 10, Americans, described the attack as violent.
Biden will direct the blame at Trump, and the number of Americans who blame Trump have increased over the past 12 months, 57% believing that Trump is to blame for Jan. 6, riot.
An AP/NORC poll was taken after the attack to determine that half of respondents said this.
Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud were rejected by the courts and refuted by his own Justice Department.
The AP investigated the 6 battleground states disputed Trump and found less than 475 cases. That’s a tiny percentage.
Farnoush Alimiri and Alexandra Jaffe are Associated Press reporters.