For the better part of the last year, President Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.
But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’s role in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.
” This was the first time that a president has not lost an election in American history. He attempted to stop the peaceful transfer power when a violent mob reached Capitol,” Biden stated from Statuary Hall. This historic chamber is located in the Capitol building that Biden, a former senator reveres.
Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office on Jan. 20. It didn’t matter. The president described Trump’s actions as the slow-motion riot escalated, much like a prosecutor. He described the way Trump set off the fire and then watched the White House as it unfolded, watching it from his television, doing nothing for hours to stop it.
Biden criticized Trump’s motivation.
“His bruised self-image matters more to him that our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden stated. “He can’t accept he lost.”
This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. It was not stated that the nation has healed or had come together with common purpose and belief.
Biden spent much time debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged electoral process, point-by–point. He asked why so many Republicans who supported Trump’s fraud claims, have not challenged their victories on the same ballots.
Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex.
Biden didn’t anticipate that he would be required to give such an address. Biden pitched his candidacy on the basis that he was an experienced hand who had worked across aisles, one of the grown-ups present. He believed that the nation could recover from a president who had twice impeached himself and challenged foundational institutions.
“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”
On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.
” It’s time for us to forget the harsh rhetoric and to raise the temperature. We need to get to know each other again and listen to each others again. We must stop treating our enemies as our enemy to make progress,” he said .
Many elected Republicans and conservative media people — even those who believed Biden had won the election, or who text Trump asking him to end the insurrection — have paid Trump homage at Trump’s Florida home. They have amplified Trump’s false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold on the rank and file in the party: 3 in 4 Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”
The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”
Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”
The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. They believe that his strategy has kept him from making the case for a voting rights bill, despite Republican-led attempts at the state level to alter the rules.
They point out senators such as Graham who used to be bipartisan dealmakers as proof of a new party.
Biden is not giving up on his belief that parties can work together, and will likely point to his $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was signed in November. However, Republican leaders were absent at Thursday’s memorial and will likely drive a harder partisan wedge this year as the midterm elections near.
Those who view this moment as a crisis for American democracy might have finally received the speech they were looking for. Biden was being asked by reporters whether Trump’s criticisms would cause more division or healing as he left the Capitol.
” To heal, you must first recognize the extent of your wound,” Biden said to reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”
Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.