President Biden on Thursday marked the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol with an impassioned speech casting it as an attack on the very heart of American democracy and blaming former President Donald Trump and Republicans for the riot.
Speaking from Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Biden offered his most searing criticism of his predecessor to date by referring to Mr. Trump as “a defeated former president.” The speech was also a rallying cry to Democrats as Mr. Biden directly tied Mr. Trump to an extremist movement that he said is threatening democracy.
“Those who stormed this Capitol, and those who instigated and incited, and those who called on them to do so, held a dagger at the throat of America — at American democracy,” said Mr. Biden. He called on citizens to join his side in a battle against right-wing extremists.
The president, alluding to Mr. Trump, said the rioters went to the Capitol to “rage” in the “service of man.”
After Mr. Biden‘s remarks, Mr. Trump released three statements accusing the president of trying to distract from his failed agenda. He also repeated his unverified claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
“The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America,” Mr. Trump said in one of the statements. “I say let them have it because America sees through their lies and polarizations.”
Mr. Trump had planned to hold a news conference Thursday but canceled it. He said he would discuss the riot and Democrats’ politicization at a rally scheduled for Jan. 15 in Arizona.
Mr. Biden‘s remarks kicked off a day of remembrances around Washington and the country.
Democrats, including Mr. Biden, tied the attack to their push for new federal election laws. They said the Jan. 6 riot and state voting laws were attempts to subvert democracy.
Vice President Kamala Harris made a more direct plea to enact legislation to overhaul the nation’s voting system. The bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.
“What was at stake then and now is the right to have our future decided the way the Constitution prescribes it, by we the people, all the people,” Ms. Harris said before introducing Mr. Biden at the Capitol. “We cannot let our future be decided by those bent on silencing our voices, overturning our votes, and peddling lies and misinformation.”
Republicans avoided defending Mr. Trump. Instead, they accused Mr. Biden of giving a fiery, partisan speech to deflect from problems that plague his administration.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a Trump ally, said Mr. Biden‘s speech was “an attempt to resurrect a failed presidency.”
“The Biden Presidency, one year after January 6, is in free fall not because of the attack on our Capitol, but because of failed policies and weak leadership. The Biden Administration seems to be incapable of dealing with the challenges America faces, and their efforts to politicize January 6 will fall flat,” Mr. Graham said in a statement.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, accused the president of hypocrisy.
“Biden lied about rescuing Americans from Afghanistan. He lied about his spending plan ‘costing zero dollars.’ He lied about GA’s election law. He lied about inflation, mandates, and his ‘plan’ to stop the virus. Now, he‘s lecturing us about ‘living by the truth,’” Mr. Cotton tweeted.
The Jan. 6 attack has split congressional Republicans, many of whom hid in fear for their lives while the pro-Trump mob stormed the building.
Only a few Republican lawmakers have been willing to take a strong stance against Mr. Trump, who has a grip on the party’s conservative base.
Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, accompanied by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the only Republican lawmaker to attend a moment of silence in the House chamber. She was ousted last year from her post as chair of the House Republican Conference because of her relentless criticism of Mr. Trump.
After a moment of silence and ceremony to mark the day, Mr. Cheney disparaged Republican leaders for the way they were handling the anniversary.
“It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years — dramatically,” said Mr. Cheney, who served in the House from 1979 to 1989 and rose to the post of Republican whip.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican and an unabashed Trump supporter, accused Democrats of exploiting the riot for political gain.
“Why is Congress so obsessed with itself and cares nothing about the American people?” she said at a press conference. “This is a two-tiered justice system that should never exist in our country. And I’m fed up with it.”
The Jan. 6 riot was linked to the deaths of five people. Protester Ashli Babbitt suffered the only violent death. A U.S. Capitol Police officer shot her as she attempted to enter the Speaker’s Lobby adjacent to the House chamber.
Three other Trump supporters died during the riot, two of heart attacks and one from a drug overdose. Hours after clashing with rioters outside the Capitol, a Capitol Police officer died of a stroke, which the medical examiner deemed a death from natural causes. Scores of police officers were injured, and four officers who responded to the onslaught have since taken their own lives.
About 150 police officers were wounded.
The House impeached Mr. Trump a week later for inciting an insurrection. The Senate acquitted him.
In his speech, Mr. Biden ticked off claims that Mr. Trump and his allies made about the 2020 election, saying they never provided proof. He portrayed Mr. Trump as a man whose ego was too big to accept a loss.
“A former president of the United States has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr. Biden said. “He‘s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, and because his own bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy.”
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Biden had been reluctant to criticize Mr. Trump. He never mentioned his predecessor by name during the searing criticism.
When asked why he didn’t mention Mr. Trump by name, Mr. Biden told reporters that he didn’t want to turn the anniversary into “a political battle between me and the [former] president.”
“It’s way beyond that,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the date of Mr. Trump’s Arizona rally. It is scheduled for Jan. 15.