Police officers stand outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Civic Life

Biden pledges to defend democracy on Jan. 6 anniversary

President Joe Biden challenged the nation to reject political violence on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking from inside the U.S. Capitol on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, President Joe Biden challenged the nation Thursday to reject political violence and rededicate itself to the defense of democracy at a time when lies about the last election have become ingrained in American society.

“You can’t love your country only when you win,” he said. “You can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.”

The speech included Biden’s sharpest and most extended denunciation of former President Donald Trump since taking office last year, criticizing him for “doing nothing for hours” as rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent certification of the 2020 election.

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“He values power over principle,” Biden said. “Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, than America’s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.”

He ticked off a list of “big lies” that have been told about the last election, including false claims of voter fraud and efforts to portray the rioters as peaceful.

“This isn’t about being bogged down in the past,” he said. “This is about making sure the past isn’t buried.”

As many Republicans continue to embrace or ignore Trump’s lies about the election being stolen, Biden said he “will not shrink” from the fight over the country’s future.

“I will stand in this breach,” he said. “I will defend this nation. And I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy. We will make sure the will of the people is heard.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before Biden, said “certain dates echo throughout history,” placing Jan. 6 in the same tragic lineage as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor that started World War II.

She described the rioters as “extremists” who assaulted “the institutions, the values, the ideals that generations of Americans have marched, picketed and shed blood to establish and defend.”

“If we are not vigilant, if we do not defend it, democracy will simply not stand,” she warned. “It will falter, and fail.”

Biden and Harris spoke from a glossy black circular platform in the center of Statuary Hall, which is ringed by sculptures of distinguished Americans. The chamber was one of the areas of the Capitol that was occupied by rioters a year ago.

The building won’t be as busy as a typical day because Congress has no votes scheduled, and many lawmakers are not expected to be in Washington.

Some Democrats have decided to be in town, arguing it was important to have a presence on Capitol Hill and commemorate the day. Three historians, including the librarian of Congress, will hold a moderated discussion about Jan. 6.
Shortly afterward, Democratic lawmakers will provide testimonials. They will be led by Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who was one of the lawmakers trapped in the House gallery that day and was in a widely circulated photo comforting another lawmaker as rioters ransacked the building .

At dusk, a prayer vigil will be held at the center steps of the Capitol, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

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Republicans are not expected to have a sizable presence. Some, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are expected to be out of town for the funeral of former Sen. Johnny Isakson. And the party has often tried to downplay the violence on Jan. 6.

Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, both of whom are close allies of Trump and have backed his false narrative that the election was stolen, plan to hold a “Republican response to expose the truth about the Jan. 6, 2021, protests.”

McConnell, who in February said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” did not mention the former president in a statement on the anniversary. He called Jan. 6, 2021, “a dark day for Congress and the country” and admonished the “criminals who brutalized police officers and used force to try to stop Congress from doing its job.”

The minority leader also castigated Democrats, who have argued that Trump’s attempt to overturn the election bolsters the need to enact voting rights reforms by carving out an exception to the filibuster, a Senate rule that generally requires 60 votes to pass legislation. The Senate is evenly divided, and Democrats stand little chance of enacting such legislation without jettisoning the filibuster in such circumstances.

“It is especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob’s attempt to disrupt our country’s norms, rules and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules and institutions themselves,” he said.

Trump had planned to hold a news conference at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, but canceled it earlier this week. He falsely described the last presidential election as “the Crime of the Century” and promised to “discuss many of those important topics” at his next rally in Arizona on Jan. 15.

Shortly after Biden finished speaking, Trump issued a statement repeating his lies about the election having been stolen from him. “This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has completely and totally failed,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.